In its largest production to date, the six-year-old Savannah Stage Company will present the sultry and politically charged “Cabaret” as its summer musical.
Each year, the ensemble has chosen a theme to orient their season around. This year is the "Season of Service," which feeds into the group's mission statement as well.
“This year’s theme is the basis of our mission, which is to serve the audiences of Savannah,” Artistic Director Jayme Tinti said. “That can mean so many things. What we chose to do with each show was to highlight and thank, and bring awareness to a different demographic of our audience.
“We did 'The Red Badge of Courage’ for our service folks, who are military. And so ‘Cabaret’ fits perfectly right in there. Our political climate — it’s a little too relevant. What can we do to highlight where we are now, so history doesn’t repeat itself?”
The musical “Cabaret” was originally adapted from the short novel “Goodbye To Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood. Focused on the Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin, “Cabaret” begins as a simple love story between American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Bryan Pridgen) and performer Sally Bowles (Lexi Balaoing).
Set against the backdrop of rising Nazi fascism, “Cabaret” de-evolves from a boy-meets-girl story into a larger statement on the apathy of politics. As their romance is threatened by increasing violence, Bowles and Bradshaw are forced to make tough choices.
“There’s a very clear message about people and relationships and political things,” Tinti said. “All of that is in the front. The words of the story, what’s happening. Outside of that, I want people to feel like they’ve used their imagination. That they have learned something about the story they didn’t know, even if they’ve seen it a million times or watched the movie a million times. Outside of the hard-hitting words on the paper, I want people to feel like they’ve used their imagination.”
The original Broadway production opened in 1966, followed by a production at London’s famous West End in 1968. The show has had a number of professional revivals since, and the score has become a staple of the American musical theater canon.
As with all of their productions, Tinti approached the staging with a minimalist mindset, steering the focus from pageantry to acting. The actors will remain on the stage for the entire show. A stripped-down set provides a chance for the play’s meaty heart to be spotlighted.
“Everyone who comes to see our shows knows we bring imagination,” Tinti said. “No. 1, above all, it’s acting focused. We go very far away from the spectacle. For the whole show, it’s one table and eight chairs. Real stripped down. When you remove all that stuff, all those crutches, then you focus on the acting and we have to focus on the story. That’s the way that we approach everything, even things that people come with a lot of expectations.”
With 12 actors, this production is double the size of a normal Savannah Stage Company show. In addition, they’ve tripled the size of the orchestra, adding a complete horn section, instead of the usual piano-only accompaniment.
The story is accented by a number of complicated dance numbers and music. In order to give the feeling of a real cabaret, Tinti tapped Savannah’s most talented burlesque dancer, Savannah Sweet Tease co-founder Wendy Penatello Denney (a.k.a. Rebel Belle) to choreograph the show.
“It was so important to me that she choreograph,” Tinti said. “I almost couldn’t announce the show until she could do it. I begged her and got on her nerves about it. I said, 'You have to do this, please.'
"She’s choreographed eight or nine numbers in this show. We did anything that we could to make it work, because her brand of storytelling, her skill, her professional standard were so important to us. I didn’t want to do the show without her.”
For the first time, the company will stage the entire production at their rehearsal space, Eden Village Church on Lathrop Avenue, known as The Pop Up Playhouse. Moving from their old space on Bull Street (formerly Starlandia Space Station, now The Vicar’s Wife & Starland Weddings) into the larger space is a sign of growth for the ensemble.
“That’s how we measure success, through growth,” Tinti said. “As long as we feel unsure and don’t feel comfortable. Numbers are a good way to quantify our growth. How many people from season to season, show to show are we retaining? That’s a measure of our growth. Now that we’ve learned things over the last six years, we’ve found that it’s something people want to invest in.”