On Aug. 11 The Larry Keeton Dinner Theatre celebrates not only the beginning of their 2016-2017 season but also the opening of “Cabaret”, the classic Kander and Ebb Broadway favorite centering on night club singer Sally Bowles, her Kit Kat Klub cohorts and a flamboyant master of ceremonies set against the unlikely backdrop of 1930s Berlin just as Hitler’s Nazis rise to power. As co-director Jeffrey Ellis was gearing up for opening night I had the chance to speak with him and a few cast members for my latest round of Rapid Fire 20 Q.
RAPID FIRE with “Cabaret” co-director, Jeffrey Ellis
JONATHAN PINKERTON: Last season you directed a stellar production of “The Miss Firecracker Contest” for The Keeton Theatre. Now you are returning to Keeton to open their current season with “Cabaret”, but this time, you’re co-directing alongside Jamie London. What are the challenges and advantages of co-directing?
JEFFREY ELLIS: I think the biggest challenge is somehow finding yourself on the same page insofar as concept and technique is concerned. Working with Jamie has been terrific, of course, but there are challenges in finding a way to work with each other in order to allow each person’s creative vision to become evident. Luckily, we were able to work out a plan of action that ensured we would each be able to do what we do best.
JP: What is it about “Cabaret” that you find appealing?
JEFFREY ELLIS: The story is especially timely, considering the political climate in which we currently live…so there’s that. But more to the point, it’s the wonderful Kander and Ebb score and the Joe Masteroff book that draws upon the source material from Christopher Isherwood in such a way that the show is completely engaging and accessible for audiences. The characters are wonderfully diverse and the situations in which they find themselves are so compelling that I consider myself very lucky to have been asked to co-direct.
JP: Being housed in a space that also serves Donelson’s senior citizens, many of whom have season tickets to The Keeton Theatre, were there any concerns that “Cabaret” might be a tad too bawdy? How do you address that as a director?
JEFFREY ELLIS: We’ve certainly given that some thought, as you would for any production, but we are letting the show speak for itself. Our concept doesn’t draw so much from the most recent Broadway revival, so we’ve been able to give it our own interpretation that will deliver an emotional wallop, while at the same time it’s enormously entertaining.
JP: When you directed “Picnic” for Circle Players a couple seasons back, you revealed your hopes of presenting it in a very cinematic way because of the strong ties the work has for audiences who remember the film version. “Cabaret” also has strong ties to its cinematic adaptation. Was that something you kept in mind when making directorial choices?
JEFFREY ELLIS: In a sense, stylistically we chose to seek inspiration from the Oscar-winning film, particularly in the design elements. We have chosen to give this production its own unique look…what fun is it to just ape the creativity and imagination of others when you can give everything your own spin and, in the process, give the audience something that seems exciting and, somehow, new?
RAPID FIRE with Brittany Blaire Andersen, Sally Bowles in “Cabaret”
JP: Alright, Sally Bowles! Can we just talk about how iconic a role that is? Of course most people, especially those of a certain age equate the role with Liza Minnelli who brought Sally to the big screen. While researching the role, did you watch the film adaptation?
BRITTANY BLAIR ANDERSEN: Oh my goodness! Right?!? This is one of those roles you get cast in that the entire process you’re thinking, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!” I did watch the movie to prepare, and a few times since. 🙂 There have also been so many AMAZING actresses that have played this role before (Dame Judy Dench, Natasha Richardson, Lea Thompson, Emma Stone, Michelle Williams…) just ridiculously amazing women. So I have definitely looked up a lot of their performances to see how they’ve interpreted the character. I’ve also been reading the book “Goodbye to Berlin,” which is where this story, and Sally Bowles, come from.
JP: What is it about racy chanteuse Sally that drew you to the role?
BRITTANY BLAIR ANDERSEN: Sally is so complex. She’s not just a happy-go-lucky singer at a club, there is so much more to her. I was drawn immediately to her personality, and how it reminded me of myself a little bit. She is desperate to find love, and when she does, her self-sabotaging personality doesn’t allow her to hang on to it. Her drive to keep up the appearance of being the life of the party, even if she’s breaking inside. And the rose-colored glasses she views the world in, even if it is a bit naive. “It will all work itself out.” She has a million layers to her. I discover new things about her at every rehearsal!
JP: Just last month, you directed Circle Players’ “The Little Mermaid” and now you’re stepping from behind the scenes to front and center starring in “Cabaret”. Throughout your career, you’ve frequently balanced being an actor and director. As an actress, what insight or advantages do you feel your directorial opportunities offer you?
BRITTANY BLAIR ANDERSEN: That’s a great question! I don’t know that I have an advantage per se, but I can sure empathize with my creative team and their stresses throughout the rehearsal process. Haha. I feel as though I’m able to better understand a director and how to follow their vision of the show, but still remain true to myself and the character I’ve come to know so well. I try to come at my characters from a directorial stance first, what is the overall theme of the show? And where does my character fit into that? And then I can dive into the meat of acting. Which is always fun! 🙂
JP: “Cabaret” is considered by many among the pinnacle of Broadway musicals, what with music and lyrics by Kander and Ebb. Add to that Bob Fosse’s magic touch when he directed the aforementioned 1972 film version and it’s easy to see why. For Keeton’s production, directors London and Ellis have enlisted musical director Ginger Newman and choreographer Cary Street. How has it been working with this team of Nashville theatre heavy-hitters?
BRITTANY BLAIR ANDERSEN: I honestly adore the team for this show. Every single one of them brings so much knowledge and experience and I just get to soak it all in and learn and grow!!! It’s incredible!! Ginger is just ridiculous at what she does. I have the utmost respect for that beautiful woman and what she can get out of each person she works with! I had not worked with Cary before, and she’s so great! She’s staying true to Fosse’s work, while also adding a bit of her own flair to each number. Jamie London and Jeffrey Ellis are a great team! I had only been in one other show in my career that was co-directed, and it was not my favorite dynamic. So when I heard they were co-directing this show, I was a little nervous. But these two are so complimentary of each other and are on the same page artistically, so it has been FANTASTIC!! They have all been so encouraging and positive about us all individually, and consequently, we’re all pushing that much harder to make sure we do a little better each time. We want to make mom and dad proud! Haha.
RAPID FIRE with Noah Rice, The Emcee in “Cabaret”
JP: If my sources are correct, this is your second time appearing onstage at The Keeton Theatre, having co-starred in “White Christmas” in 2013. How has your experience as The Emcee in “Cabaret” been, compared to your earlier Keeton show?
NOAH RICE: Yes! Although I suppose you could count Circle Players’ “13!” on the Keeton Stage in 2011. I’ve been doing shows with Jamie and Ginger since I was a middle-schooler, and it’s always such a huge joy. Hmm, I’d say “Cabaret” has a slightly different mood than “White Christmas”… Though I’ll always love cheesing it up Danny Kaye style, getting to do the complete opposite has been really exciting.
JP: Speaking of differences between the two, The Emcee is quite, how shall I put it?…bawdy and naughty. Meanwhile, you seem like such a nice boy. How much fun is it to play such a seemingly different character from yourself?
NOAH RICE: A little too much fun. I’m usually “typed” as the young, tap dancing nice boy, so getting to raunch it up as the Emcee is just plain guilty pleasure.
JP: By nature of your character being the master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub, you literally welcome the audience at the top of “Cabaret” with “Willkommen”, setting the pace for a blissfully decadent evening. Do you have any pre-show ritual to psyche yourself up for what’s ahead?
NOAH RICE: The Emcee is definitely a Puppet Master of sorts, and he also embodies multiple characters and “souls” throughout the story. I try to take some alone time before a run-through (as I think he would have) to get mentally centered and put on “the mask” of Emcee. Also lots of coffee!!
JP: At the top of Act 2, The Emcee appears alongside the Kit Kat girls for a bit of a different “Entr’acte/Kickline”. Your appearance and performance in this scene, as well as throughout the show, is no doubt enhanced by Cary Street’s choreography and wardrobe courtesy of costumers Layne Crutsinger and Denise Robertson. Do you have a favorite moment of choreography or a favorite look within the show?
NOAH RICE: Cary has brilliantly woven pieces of original Broadway choreography into our numbers, particularly in the “Entr’acte/Kickline”. The choreography, plus our incredible group of girls, have really brought the Kit Kat Klub to the next level. A favorite look? I must say, the Emcee coattails and cane are kind of sacred to me– Layne and Denise have modeled Joel Grey’s iconic Emcee look (from the film), which I’ve always loved. All the costuming is stunning; Layne and Denise’s efforts to maintain integrity to the show’s time period has truly paid off.
RAPID FIRE with J. Robert Lindsay, Cliff Bradshaw in “Cabaret”
JP: From what I understand, this is your first Keeton show. How has the experience been thus far?
J. ROBERT LINDSAY: You’re right – I’m a newcomer to the Keeton. I’ve been fortunate to see a few shows at the theater, so I’m really excited to be IN one this time. The experience has been really great. I have loved the opportunity to work with Jeff, Jamie, and Ginger. Their vision for this show is really incredible, and I have really enjoyed watching this piece take shape over the past few weeks. The cast of this show is truly amazing. The wonderful thing about Nashville theater is that there are so many wonderfully talented actors who are equally wonderful people. It’s really been a fantastic experience.
JP: In “Cabaret”, you play Cliff, a young American writer living in Berlin to work on a novel. Once there, he ventures into Kit Kat Klub and become infatuated with Sally. The Keeton is transformed in the Kit Kat Klub courtesy of set designer Jim Manning, who always does a fabulous job. What’s your favorite aspect of Jim’s “Cabaret” set?
J. ROBERT LINDSAY: What I love most about Jim’s set is that the Kit Kat Club is the focal point throughout the entirety of the show. Although the locations in the show change several times, the proscenium of the Kit Kat Club remains intact and serves as a backdrop to the entire piece. It’s almost like the story of Sally Bowles IS the cabaret performance.
JP: If you weren’t playing Cliff, what role in “Cabaret” would you like to tackle?
J. ROBERT LINDSAY: Even though I am COMPLETELY wrong for the role, I think the Emcee would be such a fun role to play. The Emcee is vital to this show because he moves the story along. He also has the freedom to make really strong character choices. Fortunately for Keeton audiences, Noah Rice is an amazing Emcee, so you won’t want to miss his performance!
JP: While you’re a newcomer to Keeton you’re no newbie to musical theatre. Among your resume is a production of “The Wizard of Oz”, where you played the Tin Man, and now, “Cabaret”. So, you’ll have appeared in shows whose histories include both Judy Garland and daughter Liza Minnelli. What’s next, a stage version of “Grease 2”? (It’s a Lorna Luft reference, kids, Google it). Seriously though, what’s next for you?
J. ROBERT LINDSAY: I am a middle school teacher. For the past few weeks, I have been 6th grade teacher by day and Cliff Bradshaw by night. I plan to take a bit of a hiatus from theater as I’m getting settled back into the school routine. Although, there are a few roles that I would never turn down if offered no matter the time of year (i.e. Brad in “Rocky Horror”…hint hint).
RAPID FIRE with Ashley Wolfe, Fräulein Kost in “Cabaret”
JP: While a couple of your co-stars are new to the Keeton theatre, you’re relatively new to the theatre scene in Nashville, having recently been part of Music City Theatre Collective’s “Oklahoma” and Street Theatre’s “In The Heights”. Prior to that you appeared in a number of productions in Indiana and Illinois. How do you think Nashville’s theatre scene compares?
ASHLEY WOLFE: I think the best way to really answer this question is to tell the story of how I got here. Two years ago I was headed South from Chicago to Atlanta for a string of auditions. One of these was a callback for “Grease” at Chaffin’s Barn. The audition was led by Martha Wilkinson and in that room I met a group of actors that I only now know held some of the top performers here in Nashville. I was an outsider only I wasn’t made to feel like one at all. It was honestly one of the most fulfilling callbacks I had attended. There was a sense of warmth and collaboration. Even though I wasn’t cast in the show, I had a strong urge to move here. So I packed my bags and in a matter of two weeks had a Nashville address. I think that short story is a testament to the community that you all have built here. I think Nashville theater is a family and that wasn’t something that I had found in other cities that I had lived and worked in. Even though I didn’t pursue theater my first year here, I still knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. When I did decide to start auditioning, this town welcomed me with open arms and that is something I will always be grateful for. You all brought me home.
JP: In The Keeton Theatre’s “Cabaret”, you play Fräulein Kost, basically described as a prostitute who rents a room in the same boarding house as Sally. Kost may not be the first character many think of when they think of Cabaret, but let’s face it, her participation in the reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” at the close of Act 1, is one of the show’s most chillingly powerful moments. What’s your favorite aspect of playing Fräulein Kost?
ASHLEY WOLFE: I’ll start by admitting that I thought I knew what “Cabaret” was about until I took on the role of Fräulein Kost. Through her eyes I see the story differently. She appears at first to be tragic and secondary to the action but in reality she is a catalyst; a spark. As she is written, you aren’t privy to much knowledge about how she arrived at this place and time. Herein lies my favorite aspect of playing Kost. I loved the challenge of having to fill her in from the subtext and the skeleton that is her character on the page. Directors Jef Ellis and Jamie London have given me great opportunity within the staging to share more of Kost with the audience. She isn’t the first character you think of in relation to the show but you definitely can’t push her to the side and forget about her. She wont let you.
JP: She’s kind of shameless, which leads me to a non-“Cabaret” question. While perusing your acting resume in preparation of our brief chat, I noticed you had a bit part in an episode of “Shameless”, my absolute favorite Showtime series. What was that experience like?
ASHLEY WOLFE: My little moment on “Shameless” was really nothing notable. In fact, I am pretty sure the scene was cut all together. I just watched the whole series for the first time starting last month and never caught the scene. (Showtime was not a luxury I could afford while sharing a studio in Wrigleyville. Ha-ha!) It was in the earlier seasons and if you know anything of the show you will know who I mean when I say the scene was with the character Jimmy/Steve and his wife Estefania. They were franticly pushing a stroller up Michigan Ave. surrounded by shoppers all dressed to the nines. My role was to be one of those shoppers. It was a cold rainy day and we shot the scene over and over, dodging into a nearby vestibule to warm up between takes. Each take I had to rush past them while on the phone hauling an arm full of holiday shopping bags. It was and easy gig and I always enjoyed being on set. However, I do think I might have been more excited for a scene from the show that I wasn’t even in. They filmed the front of my first apartment building in Chicago for the scene where Joan Cusack escapes the hospital with the baby. I just remember being told we weren’t allowed to exit through the main lobby due to filming and then later when I saw the scene and recognized the building I started shouting “Hey! I lived there!” and then I had to pause it and try to find my apartment window.
Chicago was fantastic in that there was always extra work to be found. I was amazed at how much filming was going on around the city all the time. You could walk down the street and stumble onto the set of one of the Batman films. Or, I remember a story about my sister walking along some store fronts that looked really outdated only to realize she was passing the set of the Johnny Depp film, “Public Enemies”. That is one of aspects of life in Chicago that I miss. I used to sit around with my fellow actor friends and we would try to find ourselves in episodes of shows where we had been extras on. It wasn’t at all glamorous and usually went mostly like, “Hey! There is my coat!” or “Look! That’s my hair just passing out of frame!”
JP: Ha, so true, but obviously still a fun experience. Alright, one final question…Why do you think audiences still consider “Cabaret” one of the best musicals in the history of American Theatre?
ASHLEY WOLFE: This question is easy to answer but that answer is very hard to accept. I think “Cabaret” is considered one of best musicals because it remains relevant in it’s message. You can take other shows that are set in a time gone by and appreciate the look into the past but not really feel a tie to it. Then there is “Cabaret” which is so haunting in huge part because we are still facing these types of prejudices that spawn such anger and hatred in our world today. Right now you can turn to any media outlet and see a discord similar to that which is represented in this show. I can’t imagine anyone walking out of a performance of “Cabaret” unaffected because I have felt changed every night leaving rehearsal. Most musicals leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy which, while lovely, isn’t always realistic. I think people appreciate the grit of this musical and so it still stands after all of these years. It’s powerful and raw.
With that, my chat with co-director Ellis and members of his “Cabaret” cast came to an end. For your chance to see the powerful, raw show that is “Cabaret”, Click Here for tickets. “Cabaret” opens at The Larry Keeton Dinner Theatre (108 Donelson Pike, Nashville, TN 37214) on Thursday, August 11 and continues with shows Thursdays-Sundays until Saturday, August 27. The Larry Keeton Dinner Theatre offers dinner and show tickets for $30 (Children 12 and under dinner and show tickets are $20). Dinner seating begins at 6 p.m., with the show beginning at 7. Sunday lunch seating begins at 1 p.m. with the show starting at 2 p.m. Show only tickets are also available for $18 (Adults) and $15 (12 and under). Group discounts are available for $27/ea. For more information, call 615.883.8375 or Click Here.
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