Cabaret | Producing Artistic Director's Note

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René D. Copeland | In the Director's Chair

A few words from the director of Cabaret, René D. Copeland...

Tennessee Rep's Producing Artistic Director Rene D. Copeland and Director of Cabaret

I hate to be so obvious, but, Willkommen!  (Can’t help it.  Please imagine I’m using a German accent as you read this….)  We are so happy to have you here for our production of Cabaret.  We’ve been looking forward to working on this for a long time, and our experience has not disappointed, so I know you will not be disappointed either. If this is the first time you’ve been with us this season, I'm sorry you missed Clybourne Park, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and our now-traditional presentation of A Christmas Story.  But after this show, you can still catch one more: we will be following Cabaret with a brilliant play that just closed last summer on Broadway (with John Lithgow) that was born right here in our own Ingram New Works Project.  It’s called The Columnist, by David Auburn, who also wrote Proof, and it will get its first regional production here in Nashville.  The show features David Alford in the title role (who is currently appearing every week on the new TV show, Nashville), as well as Jenny Littleton, whom you are about to see as Sally Bowles.  So stick with us, there’s even more good stuff coming!

One of the things I love most about Cabaret is the way it uses musical theatre to tell a truly moving yet also unexpectedly disturbing story.  The story is set in Berlin just as the Nazi party was coming to power, and the journey on which this show takes the audience is a metaphor for that time: the German people were attracted to something that seemed like a good idea—salvation, really—but it turned out to be a path teased out by Evil.  This show does that—it leads you down a path that is alluring, and then you find yourself in an unexpected place.  I love that.

This show has evolved over time in a way that doesn’t often happen.  I mean, the My Fair Lady you see today is essentially the My Fair Lady it has always been.  But Cabaret has continued to evolve, both musically and reflective of the cultural context of its era.  Based on the somewhat autobiographical novel Goodbye to Berlin by English writer Christopher Isherwood, a gay man, when Cabaret opened on Broadway in 1966 it was not considered possible to have a gay leading man, so he wasn’t.  When the movie was made in 1972, it was a little less clear what Cliff’s sexual orientation was, and Joe Masteroff, who wrote the script of Cabaret, said that by the 1987 revival Cliff was “sort of bisexual”.  Meanwhile, our cultural ideas about what is sexually shocking have continued to evolve, and since Cabaret insists that envelope be pushed, each generation’s Cabaret evolves to meet that challenge.  As Scott Miller points out in his excellent article Inside Cabaret, “Each subsequent version of this story has been braver, edgier, more explicit, and only now can it be told completely truthfully.  Only now can Cliff be fully gay as Christopher Isherwood—the real Cliff—was.  Only now can the Kit Kat Klub be as sexual, as decedant, as it really was.”  From 1966, to the movie in ‘72, to the 1987 revival and again to the 1998 revival, the music has also shifted—songs have been dropped, new ones written and rearranged.  We have chosen to do the 1998 revival version for a couple of reasons.  The structure of the play was streamlined so that it is more easily staged in a cabaret space, and also because this darker, most recent version truly captures the sordid and decayed state of the historical moment in time and doesn’t sugar coat it.  Unfettered sexual behavior, drugs, alcohol—these lay the groundwork for the power and metaphor of the story.  Since telling powerful stories is what we are always trying to do, the 1998 revision was the natural choice.

This cast has been a joy to work with, and the passion and skill they bring to the stage is truly remarkable.  I am especially excited to have so many making their Nashville Rep debut with this show.  It’s always inspiring to get to work with a mix of long-time artistic partners while discovering new ones.  So a special welcome to the new additions to our “family” and a special thank you to my returning partners in crime.  I know you will come away from this show with a renewed appreciation for the talented theatre artists Nashville is home to.  So thank you for your support of Nashville, TN theatre, and I hope to see you next time!

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