Fall musical ‘Cabaret’ to premiere at the Hop this weekend

by Zach Cherian | 11/2/17 12:00am

With the end of fall term approaching, the theater department’s fall musical is right around the corner. Anyone passing through the Hopkins Center for the Arts can see the activity bustling in and around the theater. “Cabaret,” this year’s musical, promises to be a timely response to the current political climate. 

“Cabaret” takes place in Germany right before World War II. 

“It’s a snapshot of the storm that was brewing in Berlin as the Nazi party was rising to power through the lens of a cabaret,” said theater professor Carol Dunne, who is directing the musical. 

The selection of “Cabaret” was no accident. Rather, Dunne said that she had been considering the musical for a while, but after the 2016 election, it seemed especially relevant and timely. 

“In this show in particular, we really want it to reflect the world outside however we could,” Dunne said. “By telling this story about loss of freedom and a single idea’s taking over political system, we felt it was important to speak to what’s going on outside with the rise of populism in the world.”

Dunne said that the play also tangentially addresses themes of immigration.

“The play begins and ends with suitcases; people arriving and looking for political and artistic freedom,” Dunne said. 

Claire Feuille ’18, who plays multiple roles in the musical, echoed Dunne’s comments about the tense historical context of the show. 

“It’s a real focus on character and motivation and historical context, which is especially important for this show because it’s such a fraught time that it’s set in, and you need to consider carefully what was actually happening if you’re going to do it faithfully,” she said.

Because “Cabaret” is a period piece set over 70 years ago, the cast has faced some challenges when trying to get into character. Lela Gannon ’18, who plays Fräulein Schneider, the owner of a boarding house on which the musical focuses, said that her character is supposed to be around 40 years old. She credits theater professor Laurie Churba Kohn, who is also the musical’s costume designer, with helping her get into character through costume. 

“Costumes are such a huge part of it,” Gannon said. “The way your clothing fits and the way you look in the mirror, the person you see looking back at you influences so much of how you move around on stage and how you think about yourself and how you carry yourself.”

Some students, including Feuille, split their time between acting and helping direct. 

“For the tech process, I’ll be taking notes on everything from blocking to spacing to lighting to acting notes to singing, and I’ll give [Dunne] a huge list of notes at the end of the night and she’ll decide what she thinks she agrees with and what she wants to work on and what she doesn’t,” Feuille said. “I flip back and forth between being with her behind the table and being on stage, depending on where I’m needed.” 

While many students will learn about the process only through acting, the assistant directorship gives Feuille an insight into what it is like to direct, which she notes will be helpful should she want to pursue directing professionally.

Maya Frost-Belansky ’20 is the stage manager of “Cabaret,” meaning that she is in charge of almost every aspect of the play from start to finish.

“From the time that the house manager hands the show over to you it becomes your show, and from that moment until the audience leaves, nothing happens without the stage manager saying, ‘go,’” Frost-Belansky said. “The orchestra won’t start, the lights won’t come up, the lights won’t go down, the actors won’t come on, nothing happens until the stage manager gives that go ahead.”

One common theme that ran through the student interviews was how this year’s ensemble was well-prepared and on top of their rehearsal schedules. 

“We’ve kind of joked that this is one of the only shows ever in the history of Dartmouth that we feel that we are at risk of over-rehearsing,” Frost-Belansky said.

Gannon echoed Frost-Belansky’s thoughts. 

“We are prepared, we are excited,” she said. “We were saying earlier that the night before tech feels a little like Christmas Eve right now, and the reason it can feel like that is because we are so ready and ready for people to see it.”

Dunne believes the cast’s preparedness this year may be due in part to the success of theater department’s experiential term, which allows majors to work at the Northern Stage Theater in Vermont in a professional capacity during their off terms. 

“I’ve seen a huge impact in professionalism, discipline and leadership,” Dunne said. 

The support of theater professionals is also key to the success of the musicals each year. 

“You get to work with real professional theater people,” Frost-Belansky said, noting that the entire production team are professionals who had worked all over the nation before coming to Dartmouth. 

This year’s musical is promising, with a thoughtfully chosen story that will prompt audience members to think about the current world outside the theater. The show will run for two weekends beginning this Friday. There will be an opening night reception on Friday and a pre-show talk about “Cabaret” and the political environment during the early 20th century on Saturday.