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Cabaret comes to Tacoma

Legendary musical Cabaret is more relevant than ever

Cabaret’s timeless story of downtrodden decadence in 1930’s Germany comes to Tacoma. Photo credit: Bond Theatrical Group

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Cabaret is the kind of musical that has shown itself capable of working its way into the pop culture landscape, functioning under a veneer of pure bravado and style, while also carrying with it a message that has only grown more resonant over the years. Beginning its life as a play in 1966, it was then adapted into the Academy Award-winning, Bob Fosse-directed, Liza Minnelli-starring film that has become a touchstone for many people who had not yet been introduced to the world of musicals. Set in a nightclub in 1930s Germany, before everything had fallen sway to Nazism and chaos, Cabaret has a sense of razzle-dazzle that also carries with it the heartache and foreboding of knowing what's to come.

The story concerns cabaret performer Sally Bowles and American writer Cliff Bradshaw meeting in Berlin, in 1931. As their relationship develops, set against the backdrop of the looming Nazi party, their artistic ambitions run up against a crumbling society and its facade of decadence. Cabaret, never too far removed from the national stage in its 50 years of existence, is setting out on a U.S. tour, hitting Tacoma April 10, directed by BT McNicholl, and featuring a superbly talented cast. The touring production's music director, Erik Flaten, is a Tacoma native, and will be returning to Washington with the show -- his first time performing in his home state since college. Flaten spoke with the Weekly Volcano about what makes Cabaret such an enduring spectacle.

"This is the kind of show, with the quality of music, that a music director dreams of being able to be a part of," said Flaten. "Everything about it, the relevance of the story, the quality of the music, and this amazing cast and creative team, too. I feel remarkably lucky. ... The music director role with this show is a hybrid of pianist and conductor, and John Kander, the composer, was clearly a very good pianist, and as a pianist, you can always tell when you're playing music written by somebody that knows how to play the piano, which makes it delightfully challenging."

Portraying a country in turmoil, on the brink of a fascistic uprising, it's not hard to make parallels between this show and the state of the world in 2018, if you're inclined to do so. In many ways, this is what's lent Cabaret such a long-lasting pull amongst audiences since the time of its initial debut.

"The reactions we've been getting from audiences, all over, they definitely feel how this work is timeless, and every audience member can come see it they can decide for themselves how it fits into what's happening today, and what lessons can be learned from it," said Flaten. "It's a very powerful story that, I think, no matter where your views lie on things, all people will find a relevance and a power behind this narrative."

If politics aren't your bag, Cabaret still remains a thrilling experience to witness, from a purely artistic standpoint. Lavish costumes, exquisitely evocative dance numbers, indelible songs, and a purely aesthetically pleasing gloss both comment on and celebrate the glitz of the sort of cabaret shows it depicts. It's hard not to get swept sway in its wave of alluringly chintzy glamour.

"Cabaret is this living, breathing art form," said Flaten. "It changes every night. There's a lot of consistency in things, but a lot of it is just bursting at the seams with energy. Some of these big numbers, it's like taking a bottle of unfiltered joy and just smashing it against the wall. You can't hold it back."

CABARET, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 10, $55-$129, Pantages Theatre, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.591.5890,

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