Bringing an Immersive 'Cabaret' to Life

Damon Jang

Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb, with a book by Joe Masteroff, has some of the most iconic songs in musical theatre. Premiering in 1966, it went to to win 8 TONY Awards, including Best Musical. It then went on to become a hit film in 1972. It has been revived twice on Broadway, once in 1998 (winning 4 TONYA) and then again in 2014. It has been revived 3 times on London's West End, in 1993, 2006 and 2012. Last year, it celebrated its 50th anniversary. 

Set in Berlin as the Nazis rise to power, CABARET focuses on the seedy nightlife of the Kit Kat Klub, a young American writer named Cliff Bradshaw and his relationship with English cabaret performer Sally Bowles.

Tomo Suru's production is set in XY nightclub in the heart of Gay Vancouver's Davie Street Villiage. This immersive production has the audience in cabaret seats while performers perform the show. Onstage Blog Vancouver contributor spoke with the creative team Gerald Williams (Artistic Director), Jeremy Hoffman (Musical Director) and Lyndsey Britten (Choreographer) about the show.

OSB: Why Cabaret?

JH: Why not Cabaret? I honestly have never seen the musical before working on it, but I knew some of the songs. Namely "Maybe This Time", which is one of my most favourite of Broadway tunes. Having worked on this show these past months, I'm glad I was given the opportunity to explore this classic.

LB: I have always loved Cabaret. The music, the dancing, the story. Lots of people believe it is Fosse, but he only did the movie. So I've always wanted my shot at it to play and create a new, strange world

OSB: What about this show appeals to your company?

GW: The ease with which people work together. The atmosphere is always friendly, casual even, and yet goal-focused. That balance is a good one in which to create.

JH: Cabaret is a show of extremes and Tomo Suru is starting to become known as a company that pushes the envelope. This musical greatly enables us to show the raunchy, sexual rawness of human desire alongside the tenderness and openness of the heart.

LB: Definitely the risks one can take with this show! A lot of performances now have become very "safe". This show is definitely NOT that. It's risky and risqué and there are so many different opportunities to play.


OSB: What challenges/advantages do you have presenting in a non-traditional theatre space?

GW: There is the technical side of things; lighting, sound, etc. Then, there is seating. We needed to come up with how people will seat and watch the show – we actually needed to decide how people will watch the show, what angle, how comfortable, etc. There is also no backstage. Essentially you have to create a “theatre” inside a venue. We are so fortunate because the owner of Club XY is supremely supportive of what we’re doing. She has recognized where her and her staff can help out, and has been so generous with her time and the great thing about being in a club is the creativity. We get to explore different and more intimate ways to interact with the audience and place our actors in areas that would be impossible in the average theatre space.

JH: My main challenge in mounting this at a club was the sound. Unlike a normal theatre venue, clubs are not set up to accommodate live sound. The placement of our orchestra was difficult in achieving good sound and our main goal was to have all seats in the house hear the same quality show as our best seat would.

LB: The small stage! Lots of my choreo was based on how to translate my vision onto a small stage, without looking simplistic and cramped. How to use the dancers bodies and movement to make it look like there are copious amounts of room.

OSB: What is your vision of the show?

LB: I worked mostly with the ensemble on the pieces that are a 'show within a show' ("Don't Tell Mama", "Money", etc.) my vision was to reflect what was happening in the story at that time. As the show goes on, I wanted the feeling to get darker - not incredibly obvious, but just a shade or two.

JH: As musical director, my main goal is to have the audience connect with the cast. I want them to be able to identify and go through all the motions with our actors. I hope for the audience to see the truth in our cast's performances and be transported to 1930s Germany, while relating it to the issues of today. We have a very talented cast and we hope to see the story told through all the creative touches we've put in.

GW: For the audience to be emotionally affected by the experience. I want audience members to walk out having had a personal reaction to the story that’s been told and the characters telling the story. As someone familiar with the writings of Christopher Isherwood and the history of the period my experience will be different from someone who is more familiar with the story from musical adaptations they might have seen. What’s important is that there are enough layers presented that everyone can turn to their friends and say "I love what I just saw".

Cabaret runs Oct 12th to 15th and 19th-22nd at XY nightclub, 1216 Bute, Vancouver, Canada.                           

Thursday to Saturday at 7 with 3pm shows on Sat/Sun.

For media contact please contact Damon Jang-