“Cabaret,” the saucy, deliciously-dark musical about the rise of fascism in Berlin, opens the Fort Lewis College performance season on Friday (Oct. 21). It signals the launch of a fully-formed new major at the college.
“I think ‘Sweeney Todd’ was our way of saying: ‘Look out, Durango, this is what you should expect from us in the future,’” Michael McKelvey, director of the musical theater program, said about last spring’s production. “Now, ‘Cabaret ‘will be the real kickoff of our program.”
“I try to choose shows that have compelling stories and quality scripts,” he said. “I want our students to be storytellers. ‘Cabaret’ checks all these boxes. It was also a show that we thought we had the talent to do well.”
If you go
WHAT: “Cabaret,” a musical by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff; directed by Michael E. McKelvey, Fort Lewis College Department of Performing Arts.
WHERE: FLC Drama Building, MainStage.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 21), Saturday, Oct. 27-29. 2 p.m. Sunday.
TICKETS: One free for FLC students, others range to $25. Available online at www.durangoconcerts.com.
MORE INFORMATION: Email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.fortlewis.edu/theatre or call 247-7089.
All declared musical theater majors all are in the show, McKelvey said, eight on stage, and two backstage, plus additional students to complete the ensemble and production crew. Key roles have been filled by Oliver Kennedy (Emcee), Kieran Peck (Cliff Bradshaw), Siena Widen (Sally Bowles), Wyatt Krob (Ernst), Haley Sandford (Fraulein Schneider), Dominick MorningDove (Herr Schulz) and Jade Graves (Fraulein Kost).
The Jon Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff musical is set in 1930 Berlin as the Nazi Party gains power and influence. The story centers on American writer Clifford Bradshaw and Sally Bowles, an English jazz-club singer who has found work in the Kit Kat Klub, the cabaret of the title. The work unfolds as the Emcee of the club welcomes the audience, club patrons, to a show, the famous “Willkommen.” What unfolds then is a double tale: the complicated love story between Cliff and Sally and a picture of Berlin in the Weimar Period. We’re in the 1930s, between the two World Wars, and Germany is quickly sliding into fascism, a prelude to the horrors of World War II.
“Cabaret” has been around long enough to garner a table full of awards and revivals. Working backward from 2022, productions around the world hark back to the mother lode, the 1966 award-winning musical on Broadway. It rose out of John Van Druten’s 1951 play, “I Am a Camera.” Van Druten’s play was inspired by Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical 1939 novel, “Goodbye to Berlin.” Significantly, as a young writer, Isherwood lived in Berlin in the 1920s and shared lodgings with Jean Ross, a young Brit who sang in various jazz clubs. In a few short years, Hitler gained power and confirmed his dictatorship. On April 5, 1933, two weeks after Hitler pushed through the Enabling Act, Isherwood left Germany, along with many other expats. His novel came out in 1939, the Van Druten play followed 12 years later and eventually the musical, movie and productions of a timeless story continue, right up to FLC’s opening night.
“To me, ‘Cabaret’ is a cautionary tale that speaks as much to modern day America as it does to pre-WWII Europe,” McKelvey said.
Because every production of “Cabaret” is a modification of the original, McKelvey said FLC is “doing the 1998 Studio 54 version.” That translates to the Broadway revival, directed by Sam Mendes and featuring Alan Cumming as the Emcee. Kennedy will fill those shoes and suspenders. Suzy DiSanto will assist McKelvey as choreographer, new faculty member Curtis Reynolds is musical director. He will lead the onstage, Kit Kat Klub band.
McKelvey will give a preshow talk at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Black Box Theater, Drama Building, before the full show on the Main Stage.
“Try to make your hobby your profession.”
Curtis Reynolds, the newest member of the Fort Lewis College Musical Theatre faculty, repeated that ancient advice in a recent interview. It was said to him early on, when his musical talents and enormous personal energy became apparent.
Last week, Reynolds (no relation) sat at the piano in his Jones Hall office for an interview before an evening rehearsal for “Cabaret.” As music director, he teaches, coaches, rehearses and will conduct the onstage band from the piano.
“Piano is the throughline in my career, and it can be a lonely career,” he said. “So, I added skills, like singing and acting, to grow into musical theater. I grew up in Plymouth, Nebraska,” he added, noting his hometown is way smaller than Durango: “only 400 residents.”
Both of Reynolds’ parents were musicians, he said.
“My parents were in a band. My mom was a music teacher, K-12. I went to Tri-County High School and got involved in community theater nearby,” he said. “I could have grown up where there were no arts organization. But I was a go-getter, and I decided to apply to top-tier schools for college. Apparently, New York University saw something in me, so I went there and that experience was the catalyst to my career.”
Reynolds completed a Bachelor of Music degree at NYU in 2015. Continuously performing or directing along the way, he then migrated to the Boston Conservatory at Berklee for a Master of Fine Arts in Musical Theater Vocal Pedagogy, which he completed on July 22, 2022. Reynolds was part of the inaugural master’s class, which is ironic as he joins FLC for its inaugural musical theater program.
A multi-instrument musician, Reynolds particularly highlights the trombone, a favorite since high school. His resume also brims with directing and performance credits that range from music director to keyboardist, arranger, actor and singer.
So, why FLC in rural Colorado?
“I love one-to-one teaching, and that’s why I’m here,” he said. “This job is all about helping musicians develop.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.