Is life a cabaret, my friends?
New pro troupe to present thought-provoking musical at Firehouse Arts Center
What good is sitting alone in Pleasanton? When you can visit the Kit Kat Klub, aka the Firehouse Arts Center, right in the heart of downtown.
Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre, a professional company formed a year ago, is bringing the edgy, thought-provoking musical to town the last two weekends of this month.
"Cabaret" has everything for a good night of adult entertainment, pointed out director David Judson.
"The play is a visual candy store, a sensory experience for adults," said Judson. "It's lowbrow and highbrow, with sizzle and eye candy that males and females will appreciate."
The show is set in Berlin in 1931 when the Nazi party is quietly growing stronger. The plot focuses on an English cabaret performer named Sally Bowles, who works at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and her friendship with Cliff Bradshaw, a young American writer. A subplot involves their German boarding house owner and the Jewish fruit vendor who is her suitor.
The action will begin in the lobby with a Kit Kat Klub girl or two in attendance. Wine will be poured by Little Valley Winery, and patrons can continue to sip their beverages inside the theater, for a cabaret experience.
The onstage Kit Kat Klub has three small tables on the sides that seat two or three audience members. For $50, including the ticket, patrons can be part of the scene and imbibe in sparkling wine and truffles during the performance.
The intimate theater is perfect for the show, Judson noted, which is the 1998 Broadway version of "Cabaret" that won 10 Tony awards. The original production played on Broadway in 1966.
"There are incredible Tony-award-winning scores and talented professional actors," he said.
Tryouts took place five months ago because good professional actors are in demand, he explained. More than 100 auditioned for the 18-20 parts.
"We have two-and-a-half weeks of rehearsal, then we're on -- boom!" Judson said.
The master of ceremonies in the Kit Kat Klub keeps the audience on edge, reflecting the situation in Germany at that time. The diabolical character is played by Gabriel Grilli, and Judson said they have been going back and forth with emails for weeks about interpreting this central role.
"I steer him and give him a springboard to be the amazing actor he is," Judson added.
"Film is a director's medium; actors do what the director says," he explained. "Onstage, the director has the vision but it's a collaborative work with the actors' interpretation."
Brandy Collazo plays Sally. Pat Parr, co-artistic director with Pacific Coast Repertory, is the music director, and choreography is by Joy Sherratt.
Judson, a member of the Actors' Equity Association, said he's been acting all his life. He has a master's degree in fine arts and acting from UC Davis and earned a teaching credential at Saint Mary's College. He teaches drama at Castro Valley High and does productions for that city's Center for the Arts.
"My dream was to start a professional theater company," he said.
His first choice of location was Pleasanton where he's lived for 14 years, his wife Kristie has her dental practice, and their three children attend school: Katie, 11, at Harvest Park Middle School; Holly, 9, and Brady, 6, at Alisal Elementary.
The Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre was formed with the mission "to celebrate human life, imagination and fantasy through professional, emotionally engaging, inspiring and visually stunning theater in the Tri-Valley region." The team presented clips of its work to the city of Pleasanton as plans for the Firehouse Arts Center opening progressed.
"We were not looking for a theater group, David came to me," said Rob Vogt, the city's theater supervisor.
After a formal presentation, including budgets, the city decided to give the group a shot.
"We discussed it in-house and realized it would nicely complement our Civic Arts Stage Company, which is more of a children's theater, family productions," recalled Vogt. "We wanted more adult fare."
He noted that the performance at the Firehouse Arts Center's opening gala was well received.
"That's another reason we decided to give this a shot," Vogt said, adding, "Pacific Coast gives the audience the opportunity to see professional theater."
"We're a smart, professional company and we treat our audience with respect," Judson said. "Part of our mission is to connect with youth in the form of apprenticeships so our technical crew will have Las Positas College students."
"I'm betting there are professionals out in the community who want to be involved," he added. "We are here for the city, not for ourselves. If someone has stage management, lighting experience, let's talk."
Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre is bringing in $20,000 worth of microphones for the production; $10,000 in lighting equipment; and another $10,000 worth of set materials, said Judson.
"We're enhancing the theater to the best of our ability," he said. "The designer has done a lot of shows and is doing it for affordable prices."
"I think the musical they chose will do well in that small space," Vogt said.
The backdrop and storyline of "Cabaret" are disturbing, Judson noted, as well as sizzling, and the show opens with a mirror, for self-reflection.
"Most of the issues from 1929-30 are still relevant: persecution, discrimination, acceptance, tolerance," he said. "It's challenging material. It invites conversation."
Judson hopes the audience will exit the Firehouse on a high from an enjoyable night of song and dance but ready to continue on to a downtown restaurant to discuss the many concerns raised.
"Have things been fixed since 1931? We're not saying what's right or wrong but asking the questions," Judson said. "Art is meant to generate conversation."
He is hoping "Cabaret" will attract patrons who may not normally go to live theater and that theater-goers will patronize downtown businesses before and after the show. Restaurants are advertising specials in the program.
"The cool thing about the city is the businesses are coming together around our production," Judson said.
From "Willkommen" to "Auf Wiedersehen," the evening offers great promise.
Who: Pacific Coast Repertory Theatre
Where: Firehouse Arts Center, 4444 Railroad Ave., Pleasanton
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 21, 22, 27, 28, 29; 2 p.m. Jan. 23, 30
Call: 931-4848 or visit www.firehousearts.org
Special events: To sit at an onstage table, call Pat Parr at (510) 889-9148.