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Buffalo State's presentation of 'Cabaret' holds new relevance today


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When Cabaret debuted on Broadway in 1966, it gave audiences a peek into a terrible time in the not-so-distant past. Set in 1931 Berlin when the Nazis were rising to power, the musical focuses on the nightlife at the Kit Kat Klub and a young American writer and his relationship with English cabaret performer Sally Bowles. Its many characters are lost in hedonistic pleasures and oblivious to the evil rising around them. 

Now, as Buffalo State’s Casting Hall Productions prepares to perform the musical's opening on Thursday, April 19, at 8:00 p.m. in Warren Enters Theatre, Cabaret holds new relevance.

“About two weeks after we chose Cabaret for our 2018 lineup, Charlottesville happened,” said Jennifer Toohey, assistant professor of theater and Cabaret director.

She is referring to the white nationalists and supremacists who descended on the University of Virginia campus on August 11, 2017, for a rally spurred by plans to remove a Confederate statue. Violence ensued; a car rammed into the crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.

“Neo-Nazis were walking through the streets,” Toohey said. “I thought, Wow, we really need this musical right now.”

Cabaret is based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play I Am a Camera, which was adapted from the short novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood. Toohey describes the show as a “concept musical” where the meaning of the show surpasses the importance of the narrative. It speaks to ongoing issues of racism, intolerance, and the importance of paying attention.

The musical allows for diverse casting and numerous opportunities to showcase students’ singing and dancing prowess, she added.

“We cast an African American student as Sally Bowles, and one of the performers in the Kit Kat Klub is transgender,” Toohey said.

Overall, she said the cast of 18 students is exceptional. Adjunct faculty Melissa Van Osh and Michael Lambert choreographed the show and were impressed by how quickly the performers met every challenge. The students also embraced the themes threaded throughout the musical.

“They are not apathetic to what’s going on in the world,” Toohey said. “I think it’s particularly noticeable on this campus where we have such an emphasis on social justice. I feel like the students have embraced this show like no other.”

Cabaret will continue April 20-21 and April 26-28 at 8:00 p.m. with matinees on April 21 and April 28 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $15 for the general public and $6 for students. Advance tickets are available online, by phone (716) 878-3005, or in person at the Rockwell Hall and Student Union Box Offices. Any remaining tickets will go on sale one hour prior to curtain at the Upton Hall Box Office.

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