Mainly set in the sleazy Kit Kat Klub and Fraulein Schneider’s shabby-but-clean rooming house in no-holds-barred Berlin in 1929 and 1930, the original 1966 version of the divinely decadent musical Cabaret starkly contrasts the sexual depravity on display with the ominous rise of Adolf Hitler, whose jackbooted thugs will burst onto the scene soon enough. Free love heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual is rampant, but the Nazis will emerge soon enough to spoil that party once and for all.

Cabaret, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff (based on The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood and I Am a Camera, playwright John van Druten’s stage adaptation of Isherwood’s reminiscences of pre-World War II Germany), made its Broadway debut at the Broadhurst Theatre on November 20, 1966; won eight 1967 Tony® Awards (including Best Musical); ran for 1,166 performances; and closed on Sept. 6, 1969.

The Roundabout Theatre Company’s 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret, which accents the dark and more disturbing political and sexual overtones of Christopher Isherwood’s ribald reminiscences, has already run longer than the original production. It opened on March 19, 1998 at Studio 54 and is scheduled to close on Nov. 2, 2003, after 2,306 performances and 37 previews. The latest revival of Cabaret won four 1998 Tony Awards (including Best Revival of a Musical).

University Theatre at N.C. State director John C. McIlwee says his Oct. 1-5 collegiate production will follow the darker, more disturbing 1998 version of this must-see musical. 

“I actually saw [Cabaret] when the original production opened on Broadway,” says McIlwee, “and it is interesting to note that [that] production was considered very racy and hard-hitting then and the theme of impending Nazi horror was not even as strong as it is now. I have designed Cabaret before and I have also played Herr Schultz in another production, but I have never worked on the revised [script], so it really seems like a new exploration to me.”

McIlwee adds, “I am overwhelmed by the focus of this production one cannot dismiss the sense of a world on a collision-course with history. [Cabaret] is an exciting musical as an entertainment, but it never loses sight of a hideous, creeping disease slowly overcoming the brash, bawdy atmosphere of the cabaret and 1930s Berlin.

“This is a much-more gripping ‘look’ at a popular work that can bear endless re-visiting,” adds McIlwee. “I have never gotten tired of Cabaret because the music and the words can be interpreted many different ways and its ‘world’ is endlessly fascinating. I am working with a cast and artistic team that finds new things to add to the performance with every rehearsal, and that is exciting.”

McIlwee claims, “Cabaret is so successful that most [people] will remember [that] it is the tale of a young American novelist, Cliff Bradshaw (played by Will Sanders), searching for inspiration around the world and finding it in the decadent cabaret world of Sally Bowles (Katie Flaherty) and a mysterious Emcee (Dan Seda) in pre-WWII Berlin just as Hitler is coming to power. A love affair between the aging Jewish fruit shop proprietor, Herr Schultz (Fred Gorelick), and boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider (Sara Schrock) also serves to illuminate the impending political storm.”

Besides director John McIlwee, the upcoming University Theatre creative team for Cabaret includes choreographer Cindy Hoban, musical director Julie Florin, set designer Crawford Pratt, lighting designer Terri L. Janney, and costume designer Ida Bostian. Giving this familiar musical a fresh, new look will present a challenge to the production team.

“There are the normal challenges inherent in all musicals making sure that the singing and dancing complements and enhances the dramatic themes and seem an extension of the dramatic scenes rather than a separate entity,” McIlwee says.

McIlwee says the set consists of “a decaying unit set of stairs, doors, and a flamboyant stage band floating about the nightclub setting.” He says the lighting of the show is “moody, flashy, and ultra-theatrical,” and the musical’s costumes are “a bawdy, seedy mixture of late 1920s panache and extreme character statements in garish color and line.”

Those who have only seen the multiple Tony® Award-winning 1966 original production of Cabaret or the multiple Academy Award-winning 1972 motion-picture version of this blockbuster musical, UT director John McIlwee says, may be shocked by the radically revamped and much grittier 1998 version. “This is not your Grandmother’s Cabaret!” cautions McIlwee.

University Theatre at N.C. State presents Cabaret Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 1-4, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 5, at 3 p.m. in Stewart Theatre on the second floor of NCSU’s Talley Student Center, 1202 Cates Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina. $14 ($6 NCSU students and $12 seniors, other students, NCSU faculty and staff, and NCSU Alumni Association members). 919/515-1100. UT: Broadway: [inactive 3/04]. 1972 Film: