Kander and Ebb’s musical set inside the seedy Kit Kat Klub has come a long way since it first appeared on Broadway in 1966. Re-invented in the 1972 film version by Bob Fosse, Cabaret saw a more sexualized revival by director Sam Mendes in London’s West End in 1993. It is that Mendes version that finds its way onto the stage of Capilano University in March.
Stepping into the role made famous by Liza Minnelli in the film version is Capilano University student, Jenna Testani. In this Q&A we find out more about the upcoming show and how Testani prepared herself to play Sally Bowles.
Q[/dropcap]Sally Bowles is such an iconic role, how did you feel when you got the role, and what did you expect from Sally as a character?
Of course I was thrilled about the opportunity but I was also very nervous. Everyone knows who Sally Bowles is, or at least everyone has their own idea of who Sally Bowles is. Whether from Christopher Isherwoods novel, or the iconic film starring Liza Minelli, or of more recent works performed by Emma Stone, Sienna Miller or Jane Horrocks. I was scared of letting people down and not living up to their specific expectations of who this woman was.
I approached Sally at first as a very charming girl in very poor circumstances. Simple and surface. My director, the brilliant Stephen Atkins, put me through the ringer to make me see how much more this woman truly was and how to play a lifetime of circumstances in one small moment. I was able to see Sally, free of any judgement, as a woman trying to survive in horrible times. It has been a one of a kind process getting to witness a character evolving so drastically within myself.
Q[/dropcap]Did you draw on the film as an inspiration?
Funny enough the film inspired in me a love for almost every character BUT Sally. In the film she is depicted very differently than in stage productions. Liza Minelli’s performance was beautiful and in a way almost too beautiful for the time and surroundings in which the real Sally Bowles – Jean Ross- had lived. However, I use Liza’s performance as a reference to one of Sally’s multiple sides, and channel her when my version of Sally feels most resilient and assured.
Q[/dropcap]How do you relate personally to the show and Sally?
Where Sally is manic, vulnerable and flighty, I know myself to be controlled, grounded and strong-willed. I feel very different from who Sally is, but that has made shaping and discovering her all the more thrilling as I am finding new sides to myself, as well as her.
Q[/dropcap]What is your favourite song to perform as Sally?
Mein Heir. Its really just one big kick in the face to her ex-boyfriend Max, who, like most men treat her poorly and use her. It is so satisfying to channel her strength and rebellion in that number, I always look forward to it.
Q[/dropcap]Which would you say is the most vocally challenging song for you?
Cabaret. This song is a complete metamorphosis of Sally Bowles, she has returned to the stage again after being fired but finds that like an old shoe, the stage doesn’t fit her the way it used to. She has seen beyond the club and knows that this can’t be enough anymore. It’s most challenging because it is the most emotional for me and its often a battle between emotion and technique and which will help tell the story better.
Q[/dropcap]The advance press says this version brings the “musical to new levels of grit and realism” – how does it differ from what people might remember from the movie or other stage productions?
I don’t want to give away all that this version has to offer but I will say that the movie is a very different story than any stage production. So those expecting Liza and Joel Grey will be slightly confused. In essence this story is more truthful and considering the era and what was happening in Berlin Germany as the Nazi’s were coming to power, it is a very dark and tragic story. Add in the gifted mind of Stephen Atkins and the Cabaret that people will witness from Exit 22 Productions will be unlike any performance they’ve seen before.
Q[/dropcap]Did this new side to Cabaret scare you? Did you find yourself preparing for it any differently?
Absolutely! The process required for this piece of art was unlike anything I had been a part of before. It was hard to see this grand vision the directing team had at first and how we would get there as a cohesive ensemble. A lot of faith in their artistic vision was required until we were ready to fully see it and appreciate it ourselves as the raw humanizing journey it really is.
Q[/dropcap]What do you think it is about Cabaret that makes still relevant and makes people still want to see it?
A country at a political turning point, filled with economic uncertainty and a loss of social cohesion resulting in an uninformed and fearful society? Political figure heads who feed off this fear and need to blame someone? People just wanting to be who they are and seeking solace in those who are accepting of them? These are all themes of Cabaret and I believe they could not be more prevalent in today’s society.
People are attracted to this show because it displays characters who are several shades of ugly and disturbed and are completely unapologetic about it. Very few musicals represent characters so absolutely unembellished and genuine, this is what makes Cabaret so gripping.
Q[/dropcap]Why should people come see Cabaret?
This show could not offer more to a willing audience. It is filled with tragic, beautiful and messy moments that will make its audience think and be moved. We have truly lucked out with a phenomenal cast and directing team who are dedicated to transporting this piece of art to new heights.
Cabaret plays the BlueShore Financial Centre for the Performing Arts, in the Birch Building at Capilano University (2055 Purcell Way, North Vancouver) March 16-26. Visit https://capilanou.ca for tickets and information.