Having debuted on Broadway in 1966, Cabaret transports its audience to Berlin in the early 1930s just as Hitler’s Nazi party is rising to power while a small group of acquaintances strive to continue to live their lives to the absolute fullest. Interestingly holding up a bit of a mirror to still-present repression and hatred by association of creative types, Cabaret is as relevant today as when it debuted more than fifty years ago. With book by Joe Masteroff and music and lyrics by Broadway legends Fred Ebb and John Kander, no wonder the show has stood the test of time. Based on Roundabout Theatre Company’s recent Tony-winning revival helmed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, Cabaret is currently in the midst of a hugely successful National Tour. With the show setting up shop in Nashville at TPAC’s Jackson Hall from Tuesday, February 27 thru Sunday, March 4, I recently had the chance to chat with four of the show’s primary cast members Carl Pariso, Erik Schneider, Audrey Federici and Tennessee-native, Bailey McCall Thomas for my latest Rapid Fire 20 Q celebrity interview.
RAPID FIRE 20 Q WITH THE CAST OF CABARET AS NATIONAL TOUR CONTINUES
RAPID FIRE WITH BAILEY MCCALL THOMAS, CABARET’S SALLY BOWLES
JONATHAN PINKERTON: When researching to chat with you, I discovered you’re a Tennessee native, having grown up in Knoxville. Has the show played Knoxville and for those friends and family who want a second look, does that mean there’ll be an influx of McCalls and Thomases during the Music City leg of the tour?
BAILEY MCCALL THOMAS: We actually got to play the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville last month! I felt so lucky to perform in my hometown, and the audiences were so supportive and responsive. But I have a lot of dear friends in Nashville that I am very much looking forward to sharing the show with. Some of my family are making the drive to see it again, too!
JP: I think you know someone I adore…Carol Mayo Jenkins. Of course I know her from her role as Miss Sherwood on my favorite 80s TV series, FAME. A few years back, when the movie remake was in the works, she was kind enough to participate in a Rapid Fire 20 Q herself. If my info is correct, you know her as an Artist in Residence at UT, Knoxville. During your time at UT, did you get to work with her?
BAILEY MCCALL THOMAS: Carol Mayo Jenkins is a personal hero of mine, too. And I was lucky enough to work with her when I went to UT. I took her advanced acting classes, and we were in a couple of shows together at The Clarence Brown. Her work is absolutely breathtaking, and she is an incredible teacher. When I was at UT, I was still unsure if I wanted to pursue theatre professionally. I remember Carol telling me that I had something special to offer and that if I wanted to do this, I should go for it. That really meant the world to me and helped me take the leap to move to NYC after graduation.
JP: Alright, on to Cabaret. You’re playing Sally Bowles. Who is Sally to you?
BAILEY MCCALL THOMAS: Where to begin? Sally is the most complex, exciting, and challenging character I’ve ever encountered. She is a force of nature. She’s one of those people who just blurts out exactly what’s on her mind, regardless of what others think. I love that about her. Sally also has a real vulnerability to her that is beautiful to see when she puts her mask down. I think a lot of people can relate to Sally on many different levels, so it is really cool to get to explore all the different sides of her throughout the show.
JP: Over the years, Sally has been played by not only Broadway favorites, but quite a few Hollywood notables. Of course the film adaptation starring Liza Minelli is still what a lot of fans think of when they think Cabaret. Were you a fan of the classic movie or the musical itself prior to being cast?
BAILEY MCCALL THOMAS: Yes! I saw Cabaret for the first time in the most recent Roundabout revival with Emma Stone and Alan Cumming, the production our tour is based on. I actually went into it knowing nothing about the show (bad musical theatre student), and it wrecked me. I was completely in love with it from then on. I watched the movie for the first time when I was preparing my audition for this. I think Cabaret is one of the best musicals ever written, and it is such an honor to follow so many incredible actors’ footsteps in this role.
JP: I understand this is your first National Tour and that you joined the show just prior to the end of last year. What’s your favorite aspect of life on the road so far?
BAILEY MCCALL THOMAS: That’s correct! I’ve done a number of regional productions, but touring is definitely a whole new world. My favorite thing about life on the road is getting to explore new cities and towns. We don’t have a lot of down time in most places, but when we do I try to explore local restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques, bars. I love getting to see how different communities work and interact.
RAPID FIRE WITH CARL PARISO, CABARET’S CLIFFORD BRADSHAW
JP: Tell me about Cliff?
CARL PARISO: Cliff is a young novelist traveling to Berlin in hopes to finish his novel, but perhaps more importantly, in pursuit of an experience for his own personal interests.
JP: How familiar were you with the story of Cabaret before joining the current touring company?
CARL PARISO: Not very familiar at all really! I had obviously heard a lot about it, but never really knew anything about it except for some of the famous songs from it such as Wilkommen and Maybe This Time. When I was asked to audition, I then looked up everything I could about the show, and fell in love.
JP: You share many of your scenes with Bailey. What’s something you’ve learned about her off-stage that you admire?
CARL PARISO: Other than the fact that she can put down more whiskey than I can, and burp louder than me, she is the most kind and supportive colleague an actor could ask for. She always asks before and after almost every show “How are you doing?” It’s really important to have that sort of care from someone, especially a show with such heavy content as this one.
JP: Whether you fit the type or not, if you could play any other role in Cabaret, who would it be and why?
CARL PARISO: I would love to play Herr Schultz sometime in my old age. I’m always so envious of the cute loves scenes they have, compared to the cynical love Sally and Cliff have. Here Schultz’s songs are beautiful as well and I’d love to sing them!
JP: Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret continued to garner its pedigree over the years by being revived by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall. Heck the who’s who keep coming with choreographer Jennifer Werner, musical supervisor Patrick Vaccariello, set designer Robert Brill and so many other talented creatives. What’s it like to be part of such a storied musical?
CARL PARISO: It’s exciting! I think a lot of the pressure is off in some ways compared to other storied musicals, because of how many versions there are of Cabaret. We don’t have to live in the shadow of what the movie did, or what the original Broadway production did, because it’s a different take that we are doing in Sam Mendes’s version. And in the hands of such a competent and, frankly, genius creative team, it would be hard not to do our jobs right with telling the story of Cabaret.
RAPID FIRE WITH ERIK SCHNEIDER, CABARET’S EMCEE
JP: You play The Emcee. Who is he to you?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: The Emcee is a benevolent trickster. He loves to trick people into releasing their inhibitions and indulging in the beauty of the club, of the Kit Kat girls and boys, and of life. In that way, he is the embodiment of the hedonistic, care-free, live-for-today mindset of Weimar-era Berlin. These people had seen war and inflation and revolution and many were ready, and willing, to embrace the beauty of life.
But, at the same time, he is just a man. He has a sordid past full of love, heart-break, death and disappointments. He has a history with every one of the denizens of the Kit Kat Klub, and he has dreams of a better life. He’s trying to make sense of a senseless world in the best way that he knows how; by reminding everyone he comes in contact with to stay focused on the beauty of the world.
JP: Cabaret, alongside Chicago, are arguably the most famous collaborations between lyricist Fred Ebb and composer John Kander, but this isn’t your first Kander show, is it? Tell me about appearing in Village Light Opera Group’s Curtains, one of Kander and Ebb’s final collaborations.
ERIK SCHNEIDER: Curtains was one of my favorite shows to be in. I got the wonderful opportunity to play Christopher Belling, a sassy, British, alcoholic director who’s trapped inside a theater with his least favorite people: his own cast.
The wonderful thing about getting to do a Kander and Ebb show is, of course, the music, which is always exceptionally delicious, but, with Curtains, the pithy and sharp jokes were so much fun to play with. As it was the final comedy that Kander and Ebb did together, I feel like the duo felt free to dip into Mel Brooks’ territory and just let themselves play (especially, since, with murder being the darkest aspect, the show is one of Kander & Ebb’s lighter pieces).
On top of the great source material, getting to work with a cast of such excited and skilled professionals was an immense treat. I still am very close with many of my cast mates, and finding such a strong creative family is truly wonderful.
JP: While Cabaret debuted on Broadway in 1966, it’s had quite a few revivals. This current tour is based on Roundabout Theatre Company’s more recent Tony-winning production reimagined by Same Mendes and Rob Marshall. In the 1993 London revival, Alan Cumming amped up the sexuality of The Emcee to new heights. How much fun is it to play such a bawdy character?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: The debauchery of the Emcee is both fun and taxing. It is glorious getting to let loose and lose myself in the devil-may-care sauciness of this role. As I said before, the Emcee is just trying to get everyone to revel in the beauty of life, and what better way to achieve that than by leading by example…but, there’s also a down side to being the bawdy ringleader. The Emcee is very polarizing. He is a character that audience members immediately adore, or that they immediately disdain and draw back from. As a drag queen and a flamboyant man, I can understand the reaction (I’ve seen it a lot in my life), but, even though the Emcee states “I don’t care much,” having to face an audience that has drawn back from you in disdain can be emotionally grueling.
JP: Well, that couldn’t lead more perfectly into my next questions…Even though you play The Emcee, a quick check of your resume reveals you might have more of a connection to Liza Minelli than Joel Grey who starred opposite Minelli in the 1972 film adaptation. Tell me all about your Forbidden Broadway Liza connection?
ERIK SCHNEIDER: I had the wonderful opportunity to perform Liza One Note in the 2015 season at the Quisisana Resort, and I still hold it in my heart as one of the biggest moments for me in my, admittedly, young career. When I was given the song, I was initially given the option to lower the key (make the song a lower pitch). But I took the opportunity to sing the song in the original key, and got to spend an entire summer belting high B flats every Thursday. It was exhilarating!
On top of that, having the opportunity to study and mimic such an icon was such a delightful work opportunity. Liza is an easy target for mockery, but she has such a strength and grace in the face of her adversity that was fun to emulate. I really enjoyed playing with the audience participation session I had in the middle of the song. Plus, it was great preparation for this show!
JP: With a penchant and apparent appreciation for the art of drag. Do you ever get to check out drag clubs while on tour? If so, you gotta hit up Play here in Nashville. The queens are masterful.
ERIK SCHNEIDER: I definitely need to check out Play! We, unfortunately, haven’t had many opportunities to check out much of the nightlife in a lot of our stops, too much drinking is really not good for my voice. But, I am always down for taking a night to enjoy local artistry, especially if I also get to support my drag sisters.
RAPID FIRE with AUDREY FEDERICI, CABARET’S FRAULEIN SCHNEIDER
JP: Fräulein Schneider is one of my favorite characters in Cabaret. What’s your favorite aspect of the character?
AUDREY FEDERICI: The original Fräulein Schneider is based upon an actual person who lived in Berlin and is referenced in Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical Goodbye to Berlin. In our research, it was discovered that this woman had indeed survived the war. Knowing that she survived, has added layers to my interpretation as guided by the director and creative team for her dialogue and songs. The aspect that she is an actual person and the atrocities and level of sacrifice that she must have faced in order to survive underscores my character choices and demeanor and while we will never play an ‘after moment’, it does add to the strength of my choices as Fräulein Schneider. She is a culmination of vulnerability and defiance representative of political discourse and the social narration being faced by the German people during this time period.
JP: In the show, you’re teamed with Fred Frabotta as Herr Schultz. What’s he like as a scene partner?
AUDREY FEDERICI: Fred is one of the most generous scene partners one could ever hope to be paired with. He has performed the role of Herr Schultz multiple times, so he was well acquainted with the show before we began our rehearsal process. In regard to an acting standpoint, we were able to make multiple new discoveries every day during the rehearsal process and even though the show is currently running, we still go back over our motivations and action verbs to make sure the show stays fresh for each and every performance.
As we both are classically trained performers, Fred and I were able to make vocal and phrasing choices that might not have been available to me if I had been paired with another performer who did not have the depth of Fred’s training.
JP: Speaking of your training, you’ve got an extensive background in opera. What’s the biggest challenge vocally between performing opera and musical theatre?
AUDREY FEDERICI: I have been very fortunate to study and train with teachers and coaches who emphasize a healthy technique over everything else. I think that is why I am able to easily switch between ‘legitimate opera’ singing and ‘musical theater’ singing. While this is very oversimplified, as the differences are numerous and have volumes of literature written about them, the biggest difference comes in the treatment of the consonant, the placement of the breaks between chest/middle/head voice in order to remain true to each art form. Musical theater requires a performer to be proficient in their belting technique which is where one brings their chest voice to a higher note choice on the musical staff whereas an opera singer will choose to be in full head voice at this point. Contemporary musical theater also requires a mastery of negotiating a ‘straight tone’ and handling ‘grace notes’ differently than how they are treated in the opera art form. In Cabaret, our Musical Supervisor, Patrick Vaccariello, has taken advantage of the fact that I am able to actually ‘sing’ the songs for Fräulein Schneider and has been more than generous to allow me to bring my version of her to the stage.
JP: Cabaret as a whole is overflowing with racy sexuality. In a lovely juxtaposition, Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz provide some of the sweeter aspects of the show in their budding romance. How much fun is that to play?
AUDREY FEDERICI: The relationship between Fräulein Schneider & Herr Shultz is one of the most enjoyable tracks that I have ever had the privilege to play. Theirs is a romance that everyone most likely imagines one’s own parents or grandparents having: when a dance or a gesture held true meaning. It is a truly endearing story that is written to show how love is still attainable even at a later point in life when Fräulein Schneider thinks that she will never find true love. Their courtship blossoming from companionship to love while Herr Shultz convinces her that she does not need to spend the rest of her life alone is done in such a delightful way through the Pineapple Song and eventually into Married. The arc of the their story is one of hope and delight at a time when protocol, decorum and formalities were in fashion. By the end of Act One the whole audience is rooting for them, hoping against hope that they will get the happy ending they deserve.
JP: When Cabaret debuted in the mid-sixties, it was quite groundbreaking in that it managed to draw parallels between Nazi Germany and the repression of anyone or anything deemed different and that of the burgeoning political activism of the day. Half a century later, Cabaret seems just as timely. Aside from a wonderful time at the theatre, what do you hope audiences take with them after seeing Cabaret?
AUDREY FEDERICI: I hope that once the audience catches their breath from spending a night of theater with this tremendously talented cast, they will begin to reflect on the message that this is still a cautionary tale. We cannot take the past for granted. So many people who came before us fought with their lives in order for us to enjoy the basic freedoms that we enjoy today. Do not let their sacrifices go for naught: honor their sacrifices. Fräulein Schneider asks, “What would you do?” If we do not stand up, we will watch our rights be diminished one by one until we wake up one day to find that we have no rights left. Become involved, become informed: we cannot be passive and compliant. We must continue to challenge our lawmakers and government officials to serve our best interests and that of the greater good. Not just one man or one party, but to look beyond ourselves for that which is best for all people, not one country, not one nation, but in one world in which we are all equal and of equal value.
On that brilliantly thoughtful and though-provoking note, my conversations with the cast of Cabaret came to and end, but for audiences in Nashville and across the country, it’s time to ‘Come to the Cabaret’.
Cabaret opens the Nashville leg of its National Tour on Tuesday, February 27 at 7:30 p.m. The show continues at TPAC’s Jackson Hall with performances Wednesday & Thursday, February 28 & March 1 also at 7:30 p.m., then switches to its weekend schedule with Friday, March 2 and Saturday, March 3 performances at 8 p.m., as well as a Saturday, March 3 matinee at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, March 4 matinee at 2:30 p.m. and a final Nashville presentation at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday evening. Tickets for Cabaret at TPAC range in price from $22 to $77. CLICK HERE for tickets or more information. Not in Nashville, Mein freund? No worries…check out Cabaret on Tour on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see where they’re playing next.
Following Cabaret, TPAC continues the current season with Wicked March 28-April 22, Waitress June 5-10 and Love Never Dies: The Phantom Returns June 19-24. Click Here for tickets or more information. You can also follow TPAC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest installment of my recurring celebrity interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q, check out previous conversations HERE and be sure and subscribe to Nashville Arts Critic by entering your email address in the “Newsletter” tab at the top of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler. Interested in coverage of your performing arts events, be sure and drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.