For Giovanni Ortega, preparing to direct “Cabaret” took him back to his childhood and across the Atlantic.
Ortega, who grew up in a musical household, was influenced by his mother, a cabaret singer who began her career at 18, traveling from the Philippines to perform in Japan. A multi-disciplinary artist, Ortega also has performed in cabarets, including stints last summer in Berlin and Las Vegas as part of his research for the play.
“I really immersed myself in the cabaret scene in Berlin, which influenced what I’ve done here,” says Ortega, assistant professor of theatre and dance at Pomona College. “When Kander and Ebb wrote the musical, their perception of a cabaret —dark and smoky—was set in the ’30s. But an actual cabaret in Berlin is bright red, really raw. So that definitely affected the look of this production.”
Opening in Seaver Theatre on Thursday, October 26, Cabaret also provided a rich source of research for the senior theses of the three lead actors, Juan Zamudio ’18 (Emcee), Evan Fenner ’18 (Clifford Bradshaw) and Scripps student Amy Griffin ’18 (Sally Bowles).
Griffin’s thesis research on 1930s Berlin and on Jean Ross, who was the inspiration for Bowles, helped her shape her approach to the character. “Sally Bowles is a fascinating, very layered female character,” says Griffin. “I approached her from the perspective of being both a liberated and a trapped person. She is willing to do some relatively heinous things to get what she wants, but she also is trapped by the men who control her life and by her inability to stand on her own.”
The history of “Cabaret”—from the novellas to the play to the musical— is the framework for Fenner’s senior project. “I'm trying to look at how each incarnation takes a step forward, and how each revival of “Cabaret” has been different, based on the important issues of that particular time,” he says.
For Fenner and other members of the cast and crew, the “Cabaret” story has also raised awareness about the current political climate.
“It’s something we talk about almost every day,” says Hersheeta Suri ’21, who plays the role of one of the Kit Kat Girls. “It upsets me as a person of color to have to worry about my family and worry about my future as an American citizen. So, yeah, this musical does cut close to home.”
“Cabaret’s” message is propelled by the music, says Juan Zumudio, who uses “Cabaret” as a lens to explore white supremacy in Latino and queer communities. “Music always draws people’s attention, and it can be done so carefully and so subtly that it can have a greater impact on the audience,” says Zamudio. “In the song, ‘If You Could See Her Through My Eyes,’ music adds a new layer that just words cannot.”
Music was the starting point for rehearsals, says Ortega, who devoted the first two weeks to the songs, followed by choreography practice for actors who ranged from novices to experienced dancers. And with a tightknit cast of 25 and an equally large crew, Ortega had to add an additional song to the mix.
“It seems like someone has a birthday every week and a half,” says Ortega, “so I’m always buying a cake at Super King. We sing ‘Happy Birthday’ right before we start the run-through.”
Performances of “Cabaret” will be held at 8 p.m. on Thursday, October 26 through Saturday, October 28, and 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 28, and Sunday, October 29, at the Seaver Theatre (300 E. Bonita Ave., Claremont). Tickets are $11 general admission and $6 for students, faculty, staff and seniors.