The USD Theater Department is putting its own twist on the well-known musical “Cabaret” thanks to help from Broadway choreographer Chet Walker April 12 through April 22.
The play takes place in 1930s Berlin in between the two World Wars. Joe Stollenwerk, “Cabaret” director and assistant professor of directing, said this production covers an interesting part of history.
The play follows an American writer, Clifford Bradshaw, who arrives in Berlin and gets involved with the glamorous lifestyle filled with new music, new art and new expressions of sexuality.
Stollenwerk said it’s an “interesting mix” because this is the time when the Nazi party started gaining power in Europe.
“I think that sets up this really interesting mix of the musical,” he said. “It has all of these glitzy song and dance numbers, but then the story really shows the lives of these people and the hard choices they had to make. It is a really interesting musical.”
Brett Ries, a sophomore political science and criminal justice major, plays Bradshaw in the show. It’s his first production since the fall of 2016 and he said he was excited to get back on the stage.
“I love the story of ‘Cabaret’ and the critiques it has on society,” Ries said. “I also really wanted to play the role of Cliff, so I am very grateful I was given that opportunity.”
Stollenwerk said this production offers an interesting perspective on political history.
“‘Cabaret’ is this really profound piece of theater, especially in this really interesting political history we live in,” he said. “We have so much division in our country and in some ways, some of the things that were happening in Berlin are not totally unlike what is happening now.”
Stollenwerk said he hopes audience members leave the show not only feeling entertained, but also inspired to think about the deeper meaning of the play.
“I think that political commentary will make people leave the theater feeling like they really got their entertainment buck, but they will also leave thinking about the ideas that were discussed during the play,” Stollenwerk said. “I love that. I love mashing together entertainment and making people think.”
Patricia Downey, associate professor of theater, worked as assistant to the choreographer under Walker, renowned Broadway choreographer. Walker has choreographed many different productions. Some of his most famous works are the 1999 Tony-Award- winning musical “Fosse” and his rendition of “Pippin” which was nominated for 10 Tony Awards.
Downey said in 2013, Walker’s agent sent the department a random email, which led to Walker’s first visit to USD when he gave a three-day master’s workshop for the department.
Walker reached out to Downey last spring to see if the department would be willing to host another set of workshops.
“In our conversation, I mentioned that we were doing ‘Cabaret’ and he said that is his favorite show to choreograph,” she said. “He said, ‘Is there any way I could come choreograph that for you?’ We were able to bring him in for an 11-day residency at which he created the dances and taught it to the dancers.”
Ries said working with Walker was “nothing short of amazing.”
“His wit, humor and skills made the whole experience very enjoyable,” Ries said. “It was also very entertaining to hear his stories and experiences in the professional world. The best part about working with Chet was just conversing with him and hearing his stories and advice. He is a well-known choreographer, but he’s also just an outstanding, relatable human as well.”
For Stollenwerk, he said the best part of having Walker work on the production was seeing his students grow as dancers and expand their confidence.
“He gave them so much in terms of helping them learn how to learn, how to learn choreography really quickly,” Stollenwork said. “The confidence that they have now is just thrilling to see. I am a teacher, so I love to see people grow and learn.”
Video by Morgan Matzen for Coyote News.