Berlin's toxic political climate is approaching the boiling point, but all is calm in the cabaret.

This is where people come to forget, where they come to pursue their own brands of happiness.

It's a delusion, but they feel safe in the cabaret.

"But I think the people in the cabaret know what's about to happen," says Bill Martin, director of Theatre Baton Rouge's production of the musical "Cabaret." "But they keep living their life in the cabaret."

The John Kander-Fred Ebb musical opens March 9 on the theater's Main Stage, telling the story of a seedy cabaret in pre-Nazi Germany. It focuses on the relationship between British cabaret singer Sally Bowles, played by Marion Bienvenu, and American writer Cliff Bradshaw, played by Brandon Guillory.

The play doesn't exactly match the story in Bob Fosse's 1972 movie starring Liza Minelli, nor the original Broadway play.

"In the play, Sally doesn't have the best singing voice, and she's fired from the cabaret early on," Bienvenu says. "This is a dream role for me, but it's been a challenge having to dumb down my singing to match Sally's."

This revival version that will play out on Theatre Baton Rouge's stage also includes an ending sure to jar any audience into reality.

"Cabaret" is a dark musical with happy music, its uplifting melodies amplifying the impending doom. 

"I am trying to allow the arc of this story to unfold in the most entertaining and most impactful way," Martin says. "I'm hoping people will leave here both entertained and thoughtful."

"Cabaret," which premiered on Broadway in 1966, is set in 1929 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power. It revolves around night life at the seedy Kit Kat Klub.

Meanwhile, a doomed romance blossoms between German boardinghouse owner Fraulein Schneider and Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz.

And the club's master of ceremonies, simply known as the Emcee, sees it all.

"I see the Emcee as the smartest person in the room," says Clay Donaldson, who was inspired by performances by both Joel Grey and Alan Cumming in the role. "He's in tune with what's going on outside and how it's affecting people like him. He tries to tell the Kit Kat Club about it in the most entertaining way that he can."

"Everyone basically starts out unaware, enjoying the underside — the debauchery of Berlin," he adds. "When the Nazis come, they all deal with it in different ways."

The ugliness arises on New Year's Eve in 1929.

"Nazism, Hitler envelopes everyone, whether they want it to or not," Martin says. "People have lives to lead, but they can't ignore what's going on and are forced to deal with it. And it happens in a tough and ugly way."

The play has undergone changes through several revivals, but the ending in the 1993 London revival is stark, foreshadowing things to come. And without giving away spoilers, it's now the show's standard ending.

"We'll be performing that ending," Martin says. "It's powerful."


A Theatre Baton Rouge Capital Series production

WHEN: March 9, March 11, March 15-18, March 22-25. Performances at 7:30 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. An additional matinee at 2 p.m. March 18, which also is the ASL performance.

WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge, 7155 Florida Blvd.

TICKETS/INFO: $30; $19, students. (225) 924-6496 or

Follow Robin Miller on Twitter, @rmillerbr.