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Archive for July, 2011

Review: Contemplating Cabaret

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

ISF stuns audiences with scintillating show
by Deanna Darr

On rare, magical occasions in theater, an audience will be so captivated, invested and affected by what’s happening on stage that they will be stunned into a charged silence. It happened twice during Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of Cabaret. In fact, it routinely happens twice each performance.

Jodi Dominick* as Sally Bowles with the Kit Kat Girls. Photo by DKM Photography

It is testament to the power of a production that is at once engrossing, disturbing and moving–not words often used when describing a musical. But just because there is song and dance doesn’t mean a musical can’t carry an emotional and moral wallop. Those who are only familiar with the movie version of Cabaret may be a bit shocked to discover the more controversial themes that fill the stage production.

Set in Berlin, Germany, in the early 1930s as the Nazi party was rising to power, the play explores themes of sexuality, hatred, power and life on the fringe. But overall, Cabaret deals with truths, uncomfortable truths, truths that we hide from others and even ourselves and unpleasant truths that we sometimes try to ignore.

With openly gay and bisexual characters, prostitution, abortion, drugs, alcohol and Nazis, this is a very grown-up musical, but one that entertains as much as it forces audiences to think on a more profound level.

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Jodi Dominick stars as Sally Bowles, the star of the Kit Kat Klub (no, not the Meridian institution) for whom life is one big party and consequences are not to be bothered with. Eduardo Placer plays the Master of Ceremonies, an effeminate force of nature whose high-energy approach leads the audience through silly highs before turning dark on a dime. Both Dominick and Placer have spent several seasons with ISF, but these roles are standout performances for both. Dominick’s powerful voice drives the production, while Placer commands the stage and holds the audience in the palm of his well-manicured hand.

Neil Brookshire provides needed grounding as Clifford Bradshaw, a bi-curious American who falls in love with Sally but who can’t ignore the shadows that the Nazis are beginning to cast across society.

Wonderful supporting performances are turned in by ISF newcomer John Woodson and veteran Laura Perrotta, as well as Sara M. Bruner, who is a little bit scary in this production. Musical director Matthew Webb and costume designer Charlotte Yetman create a rich tapestry for the ears and eyes.

Last season, ISF pushed audiences out of their comfort zones with the quirky Bat Boy: The Musical, and this season the company is making sure crowds don’t get too cozy again with a production that is well worth experiencing. Click to read at Boise Weekly.




‘Cabaret’ sizzles and stuns

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Posted: Saturday, July 16, 2011 12:30 am
By DAN LEA dlea@idahopress.com © 2011 Idaho Press-Tribune

BOISE – This is not your mother’s “Cabaret.” For one thing there’s no Liza Minnelli. This is a grittier, more salacious and real-life, riveting version of the book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and inspired by the stories of novelist Christopher Isherwood. It depicts a German society rift with cultural and sexual experimentation on the eve of the    rise to power of the Nazi party.

It takes generous swipes at anti-Semitism, censorship (book burning) and the emerging Third Reich.

But, within the bigger picture lies the tragic struggle of human beings caught in the middle.

“Cabaret” boasts unforgettable Broadway songs that include “Don’t Tell Mamma”, “Money,” “Mein Herr,” “Willkommen,” and the title tune sung emotionally by the show’s co-star British cabaret singer Sally Bowles, played perfectly by the troupe’s Jodi Dominick.

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Eduardo Placer thrills in his role as Victor, the Master-of-Ceremonies. Placer narrates the audience through the cloudy eyes of American writer Clifford Bradshaw, played solidly by Neil Brookshire.

“Perception can be a funny thing,” Director Victoria Bussert said of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s interpretation of “Cabaret.”

“We can literally decide what we actually want to see – and what we would prefer to ignore.” Click to read full article.

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Review: Idaho Shakespeare Festival's ‘Cabaret’ is a gritty hit

Monday, July 11th, 2011


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BY DANA OLAND – doland@idahostatesman.com

Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman

Published: 07/11/11

When the lights came down on Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of “Cabaret” Saturday, the audience sat in stunned silence, as if trying to recover its breath after a punch to the stomach. Then the lights went up, and it erupted into applause as the cast returned for their well-deserved bows.

Director Victoria Bussert’s production of Sam Mendes’ gritty adaptation of “Cabaret” took the audience on an emotional ride from a giddy opening to a devastating end.

That’s the power of musical theater. It can distill complex themes — from anti-Semitism to economic devastation — dress them up in lacy costumes and communicate the social underpinnings that led to World War II, all through the song and dance of a talented cast.

Most people know “Cabaret” from Bob Fosse’s glossy film that starred Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey in career-defining roles as Sally Bowles and the Master of Ceremonies. The 1998 revival offers a seamier, more sinister take on the Kander and Ebb musical. This show has mature themes and is appropriate for kids 14 and older.

The tone is underscored by Jeff Herrmann’s perfectly dingy set that speaks to the seediness of the cabaret and deterioration of Fraulein Schneider’s boardinghouse. He puts three doors at the back that are ironically reminiscent of the screwball comedies of the 1930s. Charlotte Yetman’s costumes are equally multidimensional. Musical director Matthew Webb keeps the band lively.

Though Bussert and choreographer Gregory Daniels give a nod to Fosse, they stay true to Mendes’ stripped-down, edgy take. The show has a slick center but is appropriately rough around the edges.

Strong performances by Jodi Dominick as Sally Bowles and Eduardo Placer as the Master of Ceremonies propel the production. They’re aided by a tight supporting cast — Neil Brookshire ( Cliff Bradshaw), Laura Perrotta (Fraulein Schneider), John Woodson (Herr Schultz), Jim Lichtsheidl (Ernst Ludwig) and Sara M. Bruner (Fraulein Kost), who learned to play the accordion for the role — and the sassy, sexy chorus girls and boys.

“Cabaret” is set in the Weimar Republic Germany of 1933, where a decadent, creative culture flourished, and many turned a blind eye to the Nazis’ rise to power.

We’re dropped into the Kit Kat Klub, which becomes the central thread that ties the show together.

Cliff, an American writer eager to explore his bisexuality, and Sally, an English cabaret singer trying to sleep her way to the top, meet. They begin as roommates-with-benefits and end as doomed lovers.

The cabaret numbers offer biting commentary on the reality scenes.

Placer owns the show. He attacks the Master of Ceremonies role with aggressive sexuality and wit and is close to brilliant in his ad libs with the audience.

Like Placer, Dominick is a triple threat who sings, dances and creates a complete character. When it comes to the finale number “Cabaret,” she delivers it like a curse rather than an anthem.

Pale, fevered, barely able to stand, she spits out the words. The production allows her to be true to the character rather than offer an expected Minnelli-esque slickness.

As good as the individual performers are, the show is greater than its parts. This “Cabaret” is a grown-up musical for the company, meaning that as a company, ISF is coming into its own abilities to produce visceral, engaging and tightly wound musical theater.

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read full article at Idaho Statesman

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Idaho Shakespeare Festival produces 'Cabaret', but it’s not a comedy

Friday, July 8th, 2011
By Dana Oland – doland@idahostatesman.com
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Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman
Published: 07/08/11

Most people think of “Cabaret” as Bob Fosse’s eight-Academy Award-winning movie starring Liza Minnelli. As Sally Bowles, Minnelli performs one show-stopping number after another, and the film is sprinkled with Hollywood glitz and glam.
This ain’t that.

Jodi Dominick* and Eduardo Placer*, Photo by Shawn Raecke of Idaho Statesman


The Idaho Shakespeare Festival will open its production of Sam Mendes’ stripped-down, edgier version of the musical this weekend. Director Victoria Bussert says that his adaptation gets closer to the truth in many ways.
“Sam Mendes went back to the original sources and really respected what Weimar Germany was all about: this incredible time of sexual freedom and artistic innovation that was completely demolished by the Nazis,” Bussert says.
“We’re not pulling any punches,” Bussert says.
“Cabaret” is filled with some of the most iconic Broadway songs such as “Willkommen,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Money.” The title song, Bowles’ emphatic invitation to live life to the fullest, is a kind of anthem.
If you’re getting the sense that this is not a musical comedy, you’d be right. With a funny and ironic first act, and a bitingly tragic second, Bussert’s “Cabaret” fits comfortably in the slot normally occupied by a “King Lear” or “Othello.”
The musical takes place against the rise of the Nazis in post-war Berlin. One of the central themes that people will ignore and rationalize changes in the political tide keeps the piece timely, Bussert says.
“It’s incredible how we keep repeating the pattern. It’s weird and unfortunate that this keeps going on,” she says.
Jodi Dominick plays Sally Bowles. She meets an American writer, Clifford Bradshaw (Neil Brookshire), who came to explore questions of his own.
They fall in love and find it difficult to navigate the distance between their two worlds.
The show deals with sexual themes and adult topics, so it’s recommended for ages 14 and older.
Bowles’ character is one of the pillars of musical theater.
“There is nothing else like her,” Dominick says. “It’s so rare to have a character that has so much going on, all the time. She has amazing songs, incredible scenes, an incredible story, and the depths are bottomless.”
Dominick sees her Sally as an innocent trying to negotiate an increasingly evil world.
“I see her as very wide-eyed and unpredictable,” she says.
Dominick draws on icons such as Louise Brooks and Berlin’s Girlkulture — which empowered women to own their own sexuality — rather than Minnelli’s take on the character.
The dance numbers will turn away from the Fosse influence, too, says choreographer Gregory Daniels.
“‘Mein Herr’ does give little nod to Fosse, but after that I went away from it,” Daniels says. “We get rid of the chairs. I don’t like to recreate. With talking about how we want the plot to go, we came up with these numbers that keep pushing it forward.”
The show has a long cultural lineage to draw on, and Bussert and Daniels, who are colleagues at Baldwin-Wallace College, did extensive research for the production.
American writer Christopher Isherwood visited Berlin in 1930, when Germany was nearing the end of a great cultural renaissance of the Weimar Republic (1919-1933). Historians consider it one of the highest points of creative and intellectual achievement in human history. Scientists, mathematicians, artist, filmmakers and performers all made significant discoveries and innovations.
Cabaret was a dominant art form, where people went to explore their sexuality and forms of artistic expression, Bussert says.
“It’s interesting that it still feels so edgy in 2011,” she says.
Isherwood’s “The Berlin Stories,” based on his experience, inspired John van Druten’s play “I Am a Camera.” That, in turn inspired Joe Masteroff, Fred Ebb and John Kander to write the musical “Cabaret.”
But the early Broadway and Hollywood versions softened the material. Director Sam Mendes (who would later direct the film “Chicago: The Musical”) went back to the well for his “Cabaret.”
Mendes staged his production in the old Studio 54 nightclub, that was set with cabaret tables near the front of the stage, just like the ISF amphitheater.
Some tables will become part of the action, as the girls from the Kit Kat Klub — the show’s core of dancers — wait on them.
Dana Oland: 377-6442
Click here to read full article at Idaho Statesman
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Canine actor Scooter Moose de Chumber charms his Shakespeare Festival audience

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

By Dana Oland – doland@idahostatesman.com

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Copyright: © 2011 Idaho Statesman

Published: 07/03/11

Some actors have “it;” some don’t. “It” is that magical chemical bond one can create with an audience and fellow actors. It’s also the ability to get the laugh.

The moment Scooter Moose de Chumber walks onstage in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” his “it” factor kicks in. The audience sighs with delight and watches with giddy excitement. When Chumber turns it on, one well-timed gaze, and they’re in his paws.

This is no average dog. His dead-on deadpan makes his acting partner — the festival’s broad-ranging and gregarious David Anthony Smith — into a straight man.

That’s no mean feat.

David Anthony Smith* and Scooter Moose

In “Two Gents,” the 3-year-old French bulldog plays Crab, one of the only dogs of name in a Shakespearean play, and the only actual canine character The Bard wrote. Crab is companion to Launce, played by Smith, who is the manservant to Proteus— one of the two gents.

“He’s a ham,” Smith says. “He’s a show dog, and he loves getting the attention and reward of the treat. People love him. On preview night, when I said ‘Yet did not this cruel-hearted cur shed one tear,’ he (Chumber) slowly turned and looked at the audience. His timing is impeccable.”

That’s in Launce’s first monologue, which recounts his hysterical farewell to his family because he must follow Proteus to Milan. In his second big moment, Chumber finished with best trick: a high-five.

The great W.C. Fields once said, “Never act with animals or small children.”

“I disagree,” Smith says. “With the right animal, it’s a joy. Chumber brings so much to the role. I love working with him. He’s my bud!” Smith finds Chumber’s happy spot and gives it a scratch, as the dog wags in ecstasy.

Shakespeare wrote Launce for Will Kempe, one of the original members of Shakespeare’s acting company, the Chamberlain’s Men.

Kempe had a dog that knew a lot of bits.

In “Shakespeare in Love,” Geoffrey Rush’s character Philip Henslowe says, “You see — comedy, Will. Love, and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want.”

Smith really is a dog person. He works (and plays) with Chumber.

“I stay with him all the time backstage. It would be a whole different thing if I just got him for our scenes,” Smith says. “I take him out; I play with him; we do our treats backstage; we rehearse. Then, me walking out with him onstage becomes an extension of our bond.”

Since Smith learned of Chumber’s love of lamb, he cooks up a batch of treats for every show. “He’s really all about the treats,” he says.

DOG CASTING

When ISF produced “Two Gents” in 2004, Crab was played by a dog statue — which now is known as Chumber’s stand-in. This time, assistant director Sara M. Bruner insisted on casting a real dog. It can be tricky to have a dog onstage, especially outdoors, where the audience and lights are just the tip of the distractions. There’s food, birds — including a peacock — cats that live under the stage and the occasional skunk.

Bruner held dog auditions in Boise and Cleveland, home of ISF’s sister company, the Great Lakes Theater Festival.

“I knew it would be a huge missed opportunity if we didn’t, especially in Boise. It’s kind of a dog city,” Bruner says.

In Cleveland, a 150-pound Newfoundland named Mojo played Crab. That was a very different portrayal.

“If he didn’t want to go on cue, it was difficult,” Smith says. “It’s a huge advantage that I can carry Chumber.”

Scooter Moose de Chumber belongs to Erin Gorringe, a vet-tech at Habitat Veterinary Health Center in Bown Crossing. She found him through a French bulldog rescue network. Chumber was supposed to be a breeding stud but had some undesirable traits, such as possession aggression.

“He just wasn’t acclimated to people. So, he had to learn that people aren’t just a source of food, but of affection, too,” she says. “We learned that, and we worked on his ability to share things, and he’s just a different dog.”

Chumber is now a neutered stud. He’s affectionate, playful and full of personality.

“He’s our baby, big time,” she says.

When Gorringe learned about the dog audition on the ISF Facebook page, she had a hunch that Chumber would be just right.

“He kind of looks like a gargoyle,” she wrote in an email to Bruner. The moment Gorringe and Chumber showed up at the site, Bruner knew she’d found her Boise Crab.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Not much, according to Gorringe. His A.K.C. name is Rocky’s Bullwinkle, and he was dubbed Moose when she got him.

“Then all these nicknames came up: Scooter, Schoochie, Schoochie McNugget, Chumby, Bumper, Chuch, Chechie … Dan, Dan-Dan — not sure where that came from,” she says. “He doesn’t really respond to any of them. You could call him Pot Pie. It’s all the same to him.”

Chumber landed in a good situation all the way around. Gorringe and her boyfriend, Sam Tibbs, give him tons of attention, which is something this breed requires — he often gets to go to work with Gorringe. She figured out some of his quirks and allergies that were making him miserable.

Now, he’s a happy dog, she says. Being in the play has given him a new purpose, Gorringe says.

“I think he really loves it. He likes the attention and that he has a purpose to come here. He knows the routine: going out onstage and doing his role. He might not do it the same every time. but he knows that’s what’s going on.”

Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read at Idaho Statesman

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