The Arizona Theatre Company produces a Cabaret for today

By Timothy Rawles, January 2020 Issue.

Most people might

remember Cabaret as a 1972 movie musical starring Liza Minnelli. Or

maybe they remember the 2014 Broadway revival directed by Sam Mendes, who

originally directed the 1993 version with Alan Cummings, as the Emcee.

But what you may not know is that all of

those versions are actually adaptations of the 1966 Kander and Ebb original.

And what’s more, each major production thereafter is slightly different from

what they originally created.  

The Arizona Theatre Company is giving Cabaret

new life through January 26, 2020, and according to director Sara Bruner,

her interpretation is as relevant as ever.

“I think it’s timeless and timely,” she

says. “And I keep referring to it as ‘unfortunately so’ because unfortunately,

it’s not a story we’re done telling, unfortunately, it’s a story we all need to

share. Unfortunately, it stays relevant.”

Director Sara Bruner in rehearsals for Cabaret.

If you aren’t familiar with Cabaret, it’s

the tale of American author Cliff Bradshaw and his relationship with cabaret

star Sally Bowles. They meet at the Kit Kat Club in Berlin where Sally entertains

and eventually, they fall in love. The Nazi party is gaining footing in

Germany, but Sally appears comfortably blind to the politics even though Cliff

warns her of encroaching doom.

This may not seem like musicals you’re used

to and that’s because it isn’t. This is a story with many facets and depending

on how sensitive you are to allegory its message might get lost in all the

rousing songs.

“There are all kinds of different people

who are coming in to see shows,” says Bruner. “Some people do really just want

to come and be entertained and too often audiences come in and they see what

they want to and get out of it what they want to.”

She says her job is to get the audience to

think about what they’re seeing, and hopefully, there’s a breakthrough somewhere

and the heart of the piece will resonate in a special kind of way. “I think

that Cabaret is beautifully built and that it’s absolutely entertaining,

but it’s not only for entertainment. Kander and Ebb are masters and they

created a show with a lot of glitz and glamour and the wow factor that a

musical can inhabit, but then really delivered a gut-punch, starting at the end

of the first act and all throughout the second act. My hope is that we can take

every single person on that journey.”

Whereas Bruner must tell the story by

directing her actors, the choreographer must speak through dance. Jaclyn Miller

has that responsibility for this production.

One of the things Cabaret does so

well is embody its namesake. Jaclyn has the task of uplifting the audience by

way of her own dance interpretations. That includes some of the gritty,

hedonistic and seedy natures of the club.

“That world was decadent, and people were

indulging in everything,” she explains. “We want that to be there but we really

try to restore a lot of the entertainment value of it. These people were people

who loved to entertain. These cabarets. All these things were based on satire.

So, each of these numbers, we’ve tried to look at what’s the satire? What were

they commenting on; socially, politically? We’ve tried to find, you know,

what’s our in, what’s our point of view to each and every number

so it’s all for something, it’s not for nothing.”

She adds: “It’s been really fun and

challenging to figure out what our version is of this show.”

If anything, Cabaret has always been

provocative and is pretty famous for pushing boundaries. Bruner, a

self-proclaimed Shakespeare nerd, says her version is still racy, but that’s

because it’s ingrained in the story.  

“I guess by nature this show is more provocative,

but my approaches to the Shakespeare plays have been more provocative in their

own right. So, it’s a little bit hard to compare,” she says. “The show is just

a little bit racier by nature but I’m always examining gender. I’m always

trying to figure out really authentic ways of approaching these pieces from

where I stand today.”

The Company of ATC’s Cabaret.

As a queer person Bruner has a distinctive

point of view, “I mean it’s being filtered through me and I get hired to have a

vision and a point of view and that’s inherent in all of my pieces. Being

shocking for shocking sake is cheap and boring.”

Miller agrees. She says there is no visual

reference for the 1966 version but the ’72 film must have been shocking to some

at the time.   

“You know we live in a very, very different

age now so the idea of shocking people, that’s not something that really occurs

to me. The intention is not to just be provocative or shocking for the sake of

the show being racy but what are we actually trying to convey, what are we

trying to get across? What are we trying to hit the audience with

intentionality not just because. So, I don’t think that I even think

about shows in the nature of being provocative.”

Audiences are going in expecting something.

The older ones probably remember the controversial Fosse movie adaptation while

the younger ones probably don’t know what to expect. Either way, hopefully,

everyone will get a message, especially where we are in history.

“I think this is a play that exists on the

precipice,” says Bruner. “The play takes place in probably 1930, Hitler didn’t

come into power until 1933 and what I’m interested in is the precipice because

I think that’s our parallel.”

For Miller, the play means giving the

audience a feeling of immersion inside a place where everyone was welcome.


“I feel like these cabarets were the

pinnacle of acceptance at this time; come as you are, be who you want to be,

present how you want, and sleep with whoever you want to sleep with. There was

just a level of acceptance and getting to feel included and a part of that

party and that celebration of life and authenticity and as the oppression of

the outside world starts to settle in then suddenly the sort of hard

conformity, the strict line, the rigidity of movement that suddenly is

inhabiting the walls of the club that wasn’t before.”

Mendes famously ended his 1998 show with a

glowing white wall that symbolized a concentration camp and the fate of many of

Cabaret’s characters.  

As for how this play will end, the women

will only hint at it, but for both of them, it’s personal on many levels.

“I think being a Jewish person it’s

impossible to not have an emotional shift at the end of this show no matter how

it’s told because the truth of it is inevitable,” says Miller. “It’s a part of

my history so in any iteration it is impossible to not feel the impact of what


As for Bruner, the ending is really her


“’Life is a cabaret.’ My brain and my heart

have always been drawn to that one simple sentence which is not so simple at

all. This whole story, this whole endeavor is about art and life. And the whole

structure of the play is this is art and this is life. We go from real life

then we go into the club and its performative. Certainly, as someone who has

grown up as an artist, I am so fascinated by life and art and how the two


“I learn something from the play every day

when we’re working on it. It’s revealing something to me constantly.”

Cabaret runs at the Temple of Music & Art from November 30 through December 29, 2019, and then the Herberger Theater Center from January 4 to January 26, 2020.

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