Pushing The Limits With “Cabaret”

Drama Teacher Brad Lyons holds line reading for Cabaret with Mike Lee '16 and Jessica Maciuch '16.

Photo by Kevin Shannon '16

Drama Teacher Brad Lyons holds line reading for Cabaret with Mike Lee '16 and Jessica Maciuch '16. "The show is provocative, but it's no worse [than anything] anyone sees in the hallway every single day. When you see it on stage, it may be a little more shocking, but it's meant to shock," said Lyons.

Kevin Shannon '16, Associate Editor, Photo

Theater Department presents a new venue for the stage this spring: the Nazi-filled, controversial, risque, Kit-Kat Club of “Cabaret.”

“Cabaret” is an adaptation of adaptations originating from the 1939 book “Goodbye To Berlin,” then becoming a 1966 Broadway musical titled “Cabaret,” and then adapting into the famous 1972 film of the same name directed by Bob Fosse. This spring, the musical [50th Anniversary] is adapted once again for the stage under Jones theater director Brad Lyons, who selected the musical with the Theater Department.

“I wanted to do something more powerful this year,” Lyons says. “Something more meaningful, like ‘Hair’ was two years ago.”

“Hair,” another time period musical as is “Cabaret,” was controversial for a school setting, as it dealt with the Vietnam War, drug use, and sexual themes. “Cabaret,” in the same vein, is set in 1930s Germany, a time where Adolf Hitler’s Nazism is just starting off. The venue of a cabaret club, which showcases risque performances of comedy and dancing, could yield valid questions for a school production.

“The show is provocative, but it’s no worse [than anything] anyone sees in the hallway every single day. When you see it on stage, it may be a little more shocking, but it’s meant to shock,” said Lyons.

As did “Hair,” most Lyons productions hold themes or plots which revolve around shocking the audience with subject matter, something most school productions tend to veer far away from.

Principal P. Joseph Powers said the school productions in the past have been edgier.

“We’ve had ‘Hair,’ we’ve had several other things that were maybe out on the edge a little bit, and while ‘Cabaret’ is edgy, it has been around for 50 years. As [it] may have been a little out there for the time [1966], I don’t see there to be any concern about the level of controversy.”

With productions that may be ‘out on the edge,’ Lyons still is able to put on these edgier shows at school.

“Jones is pretty good about being progressive,” said Lyons.

Not only is the school in Lyons’ statement ‘progressive,’ but it also allows Lyons and the Theater Department creative control over the shows.

“I don’t normally have Mr. Lyons get prior approval from me,” said Powers. “I’ve tried to give the Theater Department some significant latitude to their creative decisions. “

With creative control over the production of “Cabaret,” Lyons is trying to keep the musical true to the time period of the end of the “Roaring 20s” and the start of  the 1930s.

“It was the high point of conservatism, Nazism, and fascism came in,” says Lyons. “So the height of that and it’s breakdown.” Conceptually, Lyons will include the symbol of the Nazis into the production: the swastika. “You have to bring it in. This is before the rise of Hitler taking power, this [is]1931, but the Nazism had started.”

Inclusion of such a symbol is not only necessary to that of the musical’s plot and structure, but it is also symbol which holds so much offense and negative meaning to many.

The president of Drama Club, Rachel Levin ’16, concurs with Lyons’ conceptual decision to utilize the symbol in the production. “Not only does it help make our production more historically accurate, it is also a great opportunity to hinder our seemingly inherent forgetfulness as a society.”

The creative choices Lyons and the Theater Department make on such productions are not only to add to the production onstage but to also leave the audience talking about something when the curtain falls.

“Wedding Singer was like, go ahead and have a good time,” says Lyons. “But, we also do stuff that’s like, you leave here talking about, you’re thinking about it.”

The emotional response of the audience after the show is important to the selection of the production, Levin claims.

“The Jones theater department really tries to pick shows with relatable content to our audience,” said Levin. “We as a cast really want to drive home the universality of emotion and the human experience.”

According to Lyons, each show is unique in the dialogue the audience has while leaving the show.

“Every show has a different educational value,” said Lyons. “A lot of this [Cabaret] is about people being apathetic, and with what’s going on today, it’s like if you sit here and do nothing, then this can happen. You’ll see the characters in the play being all apathetic, and they figure it’ll all blow over, not getting involved, and in the end it pushes forward and shows what they got for their apathy. “

The consensus on “Cabaret’s” overall meaning seems to be unanimous. Levin, who agrees with Lyons about the message of apathy, also finds that society is complacent.

“We can’t allow ourselves to forget the atrocities committed and allow others to occur due to our forgetfulness. We have to work to keep these atrocities from all people and ethnicities, not just Jews. And I think ‘Cabaret’ provides a great venue to do so.”
Unlike past spring musicals, “Cabaret” will run in March instead of the former May timeslot due to scheduling conflicts with student performers in the musical’s rehearsal and the AP exams.