“There was a cabaret ... a master of ceremonies ... and a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany ... and it was the end of the world.”
These mournful and prophetic words are penned by fictional writer Cliff Bradshaw on the train to Paris as he flees a country rapidly falling under the ominous specter of Nazism in the early 1930s.
The doomed romance between Bradshaw and singer-dancer Sally Bowles creates much of the dynamics behind “Cabaret,” the third and final production of Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre’s 2014 season.
Directed and choreographed by Diane Lala and starring Kasey Marino and Katie Howe as the ill-fated lovers, “Cabaret” opens tonight at Tulane’s Dixon Hall and runs for four performances through Sunday.
An audience favorite since its 1966 opening on Broadway and winner of eight Tony Awards — including Best Musical — “Cabaret” is scoring big in its third Broadway revival.
The 1972 film version of the show, with original music from John Kander and Fred Ebb, won eight Academy Awards.
Among the most familiar songs from “Cabaret” are the opening number, “Wilkommen,” plus “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Two Ladies,” “Sitting Pretty” and the high-energy title track that became Liza Minnelli’s signature song from the movie.
A professional actor and dancer whose full-time gig is entertaining visitors at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center, Nigel Columbus is relishing his first role in New Orleans in nine years.
A Summer Lyric regular in the early 2000s, his last performance here was in “Wonderful Town” just weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit.
He is the Emcee at the Kit Kat Klub, the Berlin cabaret around which the action largely revolves.
Commenting on his character, Columbus said, “There’s a lot of depth to that role, and I’ve been having fun with it. It’s a step in a different direction from being a Disney performer.”
Noting how his character’s role evolves and he becomes more complicit as the Nazis solidify their power, he added, “It strikes home in a lot of different areas of history and human nature.
“It starts out fun and light until you realize the direction that everyone is going,” Columbus continued. “We know the history. We know what happened in that time period. It wasn’t that long ago, and history does repeat itself. If we’re not careful, if we don’t learn from it, we’ll make the same mistakes.”
In a deliberate twist of irony, Columbus pointed out that the set’s backdrop, designed by Rick Paul, features works by modern artists the Nazis would later term “degenerate art.”
He also had high praise for makeup artists Don and Linda Guillot, who add the touches of femininity that have been the Emcee’s trademark since Joel Gray premiered the role on Broadway.
Columbus, who has worked with Lala in the past, said, “She’s an incredible director. She has everything plotted out. In every show that I’ve worked on with her, she comes in with a set plan and we rehearse it, get it done and then the show is up and running in no time.”
Lala, who also directed Summer Lyric’s previous show, “A Chorus Line,” is a New Orleans native and stage veteran who now teaches musical theater at the University of Cincinnati. She noted that the script she is working from is the original score that was performed on Broadway, prior to the numerous “Cabaret” revivals that began in the 1980s.
In addition to including several songs that were in the original version but not in the revivals, Lala said, “Some of the relationships are clearer in the earlier stagings.”
Lala pointed out that the earlier version puts greater focus on the relationship between the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (Bob Edes Jr.) and the boarding house owner, Fraulein Schneider (Elizabeth Argus). “It’s a heartbreaking story. They’re in love; she’s German, he’s Jewish, and though the Nazis have not yet come to power, they can see what’s happening. She knows if she marries him, she may not be able to continue making a living the way she does.”
Other characters in the production are Nazi convert Ernst Ludwig (Ken Goode Jr.) and the prostitute Fraulein Kost (Suzaune McKamey), plus a small ensemble.