Every semester the Illini Union Board puts on a musical. Cabaret will be continuing the ongoing tradition. Even though there are posters all over campus advertising Caberet, U of I students usually don’t know what goes on behind the scenes of an IUB production. IUB musicals are directed, produced, choreographed, designed and performed completely by UIUC students. The current area coordinator and producer for IUB musicals, Adam Cobb, is responsible for hiring the staff of students that supervise the show. And what’s more, the only qualification that these students must have is that they are students at the University of Illinois; however, a background in music, theater, or even previous IUB shows will help a hopeful applicant successfully get the job.
The core student staff for Cabaret includes Director Jeff Dare, a senior majoring in Choral Music Education, Assistant Director Dan Brunner, a sophomore in Political Science, Choreographer Carly Compobasso, senior Speech Communications, and Vocal Director Mary Wuestenfeld, who is double majoring in Choral Music Education and Vocal Performance. I had the opportunity to interview all of them and watch some of the rehearsal to get a feel for their production of Cabaret as well as to get some insight on how much hard work and cooperation it takes to put on an allstudent-run production.
Buzz: So what do all of your jobs entail as staff members of this production?
Jeff: My job as the director is to come up with the initial artistic vision or theme for the whole show. I also lead blocking rehearsals and take charge of the overall rehearsal process. And then, during tech week is the best part: I get to watch the performances!
Carly: My job as the choreographer is that I am responsible for choreographing all of the musical numbers in Cabaret and teaching them to the cast.
Dan: As Assistant Director, my job mainly concerns scene work and helping Jeff find the overall artistic vision of the show. We block and rehearse scenes, and we also work on numbers in terms of how they’re looking and the acting involved.
Buzz: Did you have direct input in the staging of the scenes, even though you’re the “assistant director?”
Dan: Yeah, Jeff and I did everything together. I’d say there were a lot of shared responsibilities on both of our parts.
Mary: I’m the vocal director of the show and my job is to teach all the music to the cast. A lot of people that are involved in the show are not music majors or do not have a formal background in music, so I’ve had to teach them music by note or by ear. I also helped the cast with their German accents; having taken some classes in German myself as a music major. Almost all the dialogue in the show is in a German accent.
Buzz: Have you been working well as a staff and sharing the workload with each other?
Carly: I think the staff has done an excellent job working together as a team but still making sure that we really focus on our one area that we were hired to do. But we definitely all have a say about what’s taking place in the show, and the overall product is that the show has a piece of all of us in it.
Buzz: So what else do you think people on this campus need to know about IUB Musicals?
Carly: It’s an organization for people who have a passion and a love for theater whether it has been just bloomed in their college years or has been with them since childhood. We actually have a cast member this semester who’s first show ever is being in Cabaret. It’s for students of all ages, Greek or non-Greek. It’s a very open, accepting and fun group of people.
Mary: This is my first year being involved in an IUB musical, but the one thing I do know is that the Illini Union Board likes to welcome everyone and highly encourages diversity in all of its programs, not just musicals. My experience (being the musical director for Cabaret) has been a positive one, even though it was a little nerve-racking at first being the only staff member not to have been in an IUB musical. People on campus should just know that even if you are new to the program, you will be welcomed.
Buzz: Have you faced any challenges in producing this musical, especially since it’s all students doing everything?
Jeff: There are always challenges with every single musical. Putting on a musical is like the ultimate class project. You’ve got the costumes, acting, singing, dancing, lights, sound, the crew moving things around, the orchestra–all of these different aspects that come together in one moment to make this one whole piece. So there’s always going to be problems getting the puzzle pieces to fit together, but that’s the joy of doing musical theater – finding the way all the puzzle pieces connect.
Buzz: Well said, Jeff. Now I want to hear more about the show Cabaret itself. What’s the storyline?
Dan: Cabaret is a story of a club, The Kit Kat Club, in 1930s Berlin, Germany just before the outbreak of World War II and the rise of Nazi power. The musical follows the love stories of Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw, and Fraulein Schneider and Herr Shultz. In following these relationships, it shows how there is a lot happening in Germany and how the average person is ignoring what’s happening outside The Kit Kat Club; everyone just wants to have a good time. And that’s why the country gets swept over because everyone just turns their head.
Carly: Even though the show is somewhat dark, a lot of very entertaining numbers take place inside the Kit Kat Club.
Dan: Yes, so there’s a very ‘entertainment’ side to the show and a socio-political side as well.
Buzz: So what are some of your favorite numbers in the show?
Jeff: Shows are like my children. I can’t play favorites because there’s really no one scene or number that we could take out of the show and still have it be everything that it is. Every single scene is important in its own right.
Carly: It’s really hard to pick a favorite number, but one of my favorites is the opening number “Wiklommen,” which is German for “Welcome.” I love it because it’s so full of energy. I think the cast is extremely talented and there are a lot of amazing singers and dancers that are featured in this number. It’s very powerful and a great way to open the show.
Buzz: Yes, I had the opportunity to watch “Wiklommen” in rehearsal and it was really fun and made me very excited to see the show. What are some of your other favorite numbers?
Mary: It’s very hard to say but I really do enjoy the numbers that show the relationship between Schneider and Shultz because I think their relationship is the most tragic. They’re two old, widowed people that fall in love and want to get married; but then, Schneider is German and Shultz is Jewish. Therefore, Schneider is foreseeing all these problems that could result if she marries a Jew. You see what they go though and it’s just so sad. But the number “It Couldn’t Please Me More” is a happy song between them in the beginning of the show, and you get sucked right in to their sweet little relationship because it’s just so cute!
Buzz: So, now the burning question: what does “Life is a cabaret, old chum” mean to you personally or in the context of the show?
Dan: Sally sings this song at the end of the show, and it’s her proving to herself that she’s going to be okay. It’s a testament to turning away from reality. Other lyrics in the song are: “What good is it sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play.” It’s saying that nothing is going to happen to you if you just stay put.
Carly: For me, this saying is Sally’s way of forgetting Cliff Bradshaw, who had just left her, and reminding herself that the cabaret is her life and she’s not going to run away from it.
Mary: In general, the cabaret is a carefree place where everybody goes to have a good time and forget what’s going on at work or home; it’s just a separate entity. And so I think “Life is a cabaret old chum” just applies that to life. “Life is a cabaret,” so try not to worry too much about everything.
Don’t miss your opportunity to see this all college student production! This show is sensational! Cabaret opens this weekend and has performances on Nov. 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 13 at 2:00 p.m. at Foellinger Auditorium. Get tickets at the Box Office in the Union.