’Cabaret’ connects then and now
Josh Canfield stars as the emcee (center) in “Cabaret,” playing at the Gateway Playhouse from August 3-18.

Gateway/Rob Siefert

’Cabaret’ connects then and now


Courtney Wolfson used to enjoy the music of “Cabaret,” specifically the title song, as a cheerful jaunt that was a testament to the classic show. But after her few weeks of playing the part of Sally Bowles, she realized the deeper context the show is built on. 

“This is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on,” Wolfson said. She categorized the songwriting as some of the best in musical history. “Director Larry Raben has enjoyed the process of making this production, saying that there are a lot of different artistic choices that can be made to create a unique experience.”

“Cabaret” is a 1966 musical about a time in Berlin, Germany just before the rise of Adolf Hitler. It tells of the nightlife that was both raunchy and sexy, as the region was on the brink of international chaos. The show is based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play, “I Am Camera,” which was adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories.” Those different stories were melded together with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff to create the Tony Award-winning show. “Cabaret” takes the stories of a performer, a writer from America and the inhabitants of post-World War I Berlin as they experience the changing world around them. The musical rendered a lot of familiar feelings for the cast and crew, who relate the messages in the classic story to what is happening in the world today.

“People have stopped thinking for themselves,” Raben said. “I think the moral is: pay attention.”

One of the pivotal characters in the show, who is described as controlling the audience and the atmosphere, is the emcee, who acts as half-narrator, half-character. His portrayer, Josh Canfield, said he is like a “master manipulator,” who has the audience in the palm of his hand. Raben agreed, saying that the audience is drawn in from the first minute.

Raben and Canfield have cooked up an original portrayal of the emcee, one they said would surprise people in one way or another. Canfield said the character is very aware of his charm, knows how to get people to do what he wants, and enjoys the mischief of causing confusion. The character feels very modern and “very 2018.”

“It can change hearts and minds in one way or the other,” Canfield said of the show. 

Those working on the play described it as incredibly powerful, with two alternating feelings — darkness vs. happiness. Raben also said that a powerful tool is the fact that the show brings together the lives of different people that all intersect at this crucial moment in history.

“If you didn’t know Hitler was happening, this would be an amazing place you would want to be,” he said.

While the show has fairly dark themes throughout, it is full of laughter and comedic moments, as the actors pointed out that an often reaction to tragedy is comedy. There are sometimes happy moments and sad moments happening on stage one after another, or even at the exact same time.

A unique thing about this show is that the audience knows already how it ends. This is a theme that keeps poking at the back of the mind throughout the performance. Raben is hoping that people leave the show feeling inspired — and maybe even motivated — to better their community.

“When people leave the theater,” Raben said, “I would want them to know that being complacent makes them complicit.”

In addition to Wolfson playing Sally Bowles, the show stars Gateway alum and Broadway veteran Canfield as the emcee, whose credits include “Dr. Zhivago” and “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.” Cliff will be played by Stephen Grant Douglas in his Gateway debut. Fräluein Schneider will be played by Dorothy Stanley, whose Broadway credits include “Billy Elliot,” “Gypsy,” “Sweeney Todd” and “Show Boat.” Steve Brady will play Herr Schultz, whose previous credits at the Gateway include “Hello Dolly,” “Rock of Ages,” “Anything Goes” and “My Fair Lady”; Ernst will be played by Alex Puette, whose Broadway credits include “Legally Blonde,” “Young Frankenstein” and “West Side Story.” Fräulein Kost will be played by Adriana Milbrath, who recently played the role of Fraulein Kost on the national tour of “Cabaret.”

The cast is also using the same costumes that were used in the 2014 Broadway revival, which featured stars like Michelle Williams, Emma Stone and Alan Cumming. 

“Cabaret” will be playing at the Gateway Playhouse from Aug. 3 to 18, with previews starting on Aug. 1. Tickets are $59-$89, and preview tickets start at $49. Student discounts and group rates are available. More information and tickets can be found at www.thegateway.org or by calling 631-286-1133.