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Photos by Franz Mahr, Words by Melissa Groth

Cabaret and Cabaret are dominating Signature Theatre. Signature has been presenting a series of cabaret performances through the 2014-2015 season, and will close the series with a summer run of the genre’s namesake 1966 musical. If you’re not familiar with Cabaret, it is set in 1930s Berlin at the onset of the rise of Nazi power. It follows the story of Sally Bowles, a young English cabaret singer who performs at a lascivious nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub. She meets American writer Cliff Bradshaw, who has come to Berlin to write a novel, and the two form a fast friendship that leads to larger complications when Sally begins living with Cliff. A second storyline that becomes entwined in the first is that of the romance between landlady Fraulein Schneider and grocer Herr Schultz; a nice older couple who find themselves confronted by Nazi persecution due to Herr Schultz’s Judaism. The two stories are woven together under the watch of the Emcee, an omnipresent character who presides over the action, mockingly commenting on the political climate and the futility of romantic relationships.

It’s Friday, May 8th, four days before opening, and tech rehearsal is underway at Signature Theatre in Shirlington Village, Arlington. Scantily clad cast members scurry around backstage, reapplying makeup and practicing choreographed gyrations before taking their places on stage. One of the cast members, a “Kit Kat Klub girl” holds up a piece of clothing, what seems to be just the strappy parts of a black bra on a hanger, and asks a crew member what it’s for. The crew member responds, “It’s for you to put on.” “Put on what?!” the girl the responds incredulously, still unsure of exactly how the piece is supposed to be worn. Someone says something about pasties. The costumes are certainly… spare. Most of the cast is outfitted in garter belts and thongs. It is cabaret, after all. The Kit Kat Klub is meant to be seedy, a place for patrons to escape the outside world and exist fully within the frivolity of cabaret.

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Another crew member asks a Kit Kat Klub boy whether he needs one or two cigarettes in the ashtray for the start of the second act. He hesitates, but decides on two. This is what tech rehearsal is for, working out the kinks, figuring out how to properly wear a cupless brassiere, making sure everything runs smoothly. And everything seems to be running smoothly. The props are lined up and labeled on backstage tables, wigs are atop the proper heads, makeup has been applied, the cast is ready and buzzing.

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Rick Foucheux plays Herr Schultz. Dropping Herr Schultz’s German accent for a moment, he tells me he’s excited about the rehearsal, that it’s “fun getting back into it; breaking things down and watching them come together.” I find him sitting in the lounge backstage, holding a bag of oranges, watching the second act through a monitor for his cue. As it approaches he resumes character, German accent, and he and his oranges head for the stage. The stage itself is another tricky element to figure out during tech rehearsal. For Cabaret, a rotating circular platform has been installed flush in the center of the stage. During songs and set changes it is often spinning as actors enter and exit the stage, presenting an extra challenge to Matthew Gardiner’s choreography (Matthew is also the director of this production). There is a catwalk above the stage and a runway below that crosses the seating area through to the exit. For some in the audience it will be like they are at an actual nightclub as they take their seats at small tables next to the stage.

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We take a peek behind the backdrop from the side of the stage as Wesley Taylor is preparing for his cue. Taylor, who has acted on Smash and Looking, plays the almost-sinister Emcee. He quickly goes over the next number’s moves behind the curtain before taking the stage. During breaks he is found backstage, reapplying thick black eyeliner or gold flakes to his face for the greedy, ode to the easy-way-out, “Money,” the Emcee’s mischievous twinkle still there in his eyes.  Barrett Wilbert Weed, who plays the lead, Sally Bowles, is in the dressing room next to Taylor’s, checking something on her phone. I compliment them on what I’ve seen of the rehearsal so far; I mention Weed’s very convincing British accent. She tells me tech rehearsals, which are the initial complete run-throughs from beginning to end, can be intimidating. She says, “You are focusing on singing one song and at the same time thinking ‘okay what comes next?’” I’m surprised to hear that she’s nervous about the rehearsal, because she doesn’t show it at all. Even backstage Weed seems totally serene and prepared. She is relieved that her accent is convincing.

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In fact, no one seems nervous. I notice that it isn’t really all that hectic backstage. The actors and actresses who play the Kit Kat Klub boys and girls are focused yet jovial, confident, even sassy. Someone, I think a crew member, makes a comment about all the butt cheeks he’s seeing to an actress walking by. She makes a joke about it and then slaps her ass as a send up. There are a couple hiccups onstage, a staticky mic here, a misstep there, a hat that wasn’t pinned on tight enough to not fly off during a kickline; nothing that can’t be easily remedied in time for opening night. Taylor slays as the Emcee; he is funny and charismatic and commands the stage during “Two Ladies,” and “Money”. Weed is heart-breakingly good as the young yet jaded Sally. She portrays a profound, aching sadness in her solo performance of “Cabaret.” The Kit Kat Klub boys and girls are all amazing; bringing the world of the cabaret to life with high kicks and risque antics. The cast and crew are right to be confident; when even the tech rehearsal is mesmerizing you’re doing it right.

Cabaret runs at Signature Theatre May 12 through June 28.

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