Cabaret turns into circus

QMT reinterprets musical’s story with circus theme

Cast members rehearse at Macgillivray-Brown Hall.
Cast members rehearse at Macgillivray-Brown Hall.

Theatre Preview: Cabaret @ Rotunda Theatre, March 27 - April 1

For their winter production, Queen’s Musical Theatre chose to delve into the Berlin stories of Fred Ebb and John Kander’s infamous Cabaret. From smoky parlours to lively dance numbers, Cabaret has it all—and QMT is ready to indulge. “I think Cabaret has a lot of relevance—the original was in 1966—and 40 years later it still holds meaning in society,” said Kat Sandler, ArtSci ’08, and director of Cabaret.

Due to its undeniable popularity, and its adaptation to film in 1972, which starred Liza Minnelli, Cabaret has been performed innumerable times, yet the originality of the popular productions is waning. “Cabaret has become quite cliché because of the movie— but really, it’s more of a subtle story that the movie puts on,” Sandler said. The result of this hesitancy towards typical reproductions of the musical is QMT’s re-envisioning, from the central concept to characters and staging.

“I thought it would be really neat to use a circus element,” Sandler said. “I think the circus is the ultimate form of entertainment.
“[Cabaret] is about escape, about an attempt to make life beautiful, and I think that really ties nicely into the circus concept, and into society today as we’re constantly trying to dream things up and make them more aesthetically pleasing.”

To achieve this circus-like atmosphere, and to establish the immediacy of Cabaret, Sandler has chosen an unconventional configuration for a big-time musical: theatre-in-the-round, in which the audience surrounds the stage on all sides. “It’s rare for student productions to be in-the-round,” Sandler said.

“But I found that working in-theround makes for a much more dynamic show. It forces you to think on your feet as actor and director, as much as it is more difficult for acting and directing.
“I think it allows for a connection with the audience that you don’t find with proscenium [stages, which are the most common setup]. It really gives them access to the world of the play.”

For actors like Johnny Soln, ArtSci ’06, who plays the elderly Herr Schultz, this experience was uncommon, yet it enhanced the performance of all involved.

“I’ve never been in-the-round before, but I found it very liberating. It challenges you as an actor,” Soln said.

“It’s about back-ting,” added Keith Bennie, ArtSci ’07, who plays the main character, Cliff Bradshaw.

“You have to act with every part of your body.” Not only is a circus-like viewing experience achieved through this configuration, but so is the immediacy of festive entertainment.

“The audience is going to feel like they’re in an actual Cabaret,” said Sarah Bruckschwaiger, ArtSci ’09, who plays the English cabaret singer, Sally Bowles.

Added Soln: “The audience becomes part of the spectacle themselves.”

Space and theme changes aren’t QMT’s only alteration, either. Under the direction of Sandler, significant character adjustments have also been made.

“We’ve done quite a bit to areas people wouldn’t touch,” Sandler said. “I think we’re taking calculated risks—but that’s the great thing about student theatre.”

The biggest character change for the cast is the role of the Emcee. As narrator and spokesperson for the play, Emcee is typically a focal point of most productions. However, for QMT’s production the part has been divided for two actors. Daniel Greer, ArtSci ’08, plays the male half of the reinterpreted Emcee, while Carly Heffernan, ArtSci ’07, plays the female half.

“It creates a whole new dynamic where the Emcees can interact with one another in a dialogue rather than a monologue,” Greer said. Despite the risks Sandler admits to taking with the production, the cast has wholeheartedly jumped on board: “The challenges that they’ve presented are vast, but I think the risks will pay off,” Bennie said. “This show has everything—it has dancing, it has singing, it has fighting,” Greer said. “And, it has fruit,” added Soln. “But I think the show will make people uncomfortable, challenge their conventions, and most importantly, make them think,” Soln said.

For Sandler, this, above all else, is the most important aspect of the play.

“The biggest misconception about Cabaret is that it’s an incredibly happy musical; it’s really quite dark—and I think there are parts of the play where the audience should feel uncomfortable because parts of our history are uncomfortable,” Sandler said.

“We don’t like to look at them, we don’t like to listen to them, and we don’t like to sing about them, but I feel that we need to face these things and theatre is an interesting medium by which to do that.”

“You always, as a director, want people to feel something about it—rather than going home to watch 24.” But to Sandler, and everyone involved in the production, the biggest reward has been the collaborative experience—the dynamic contributions of the cast and crew in the re-envisioning of a classic. “Working with students, the level of energy is amazing,” Sandler said. “Everyone has really thrown themselves into it, into these risks— and attempting something like this is only possible when you have people willing to take a chance on something crazy.”

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