Older actors in the new BOOM! Troupe is looking forward to the stage in the “Cabaret”
Life is good for the older cast of “Cabaret” at Akron Civic Theater.
That’s because, some after not doing theater for decades, they’re returning to a theater company that was created just for them – BOOM! Theatre.
“Cabaret” is the launch pad for the new theater group des Civic, which presents actors aged 50 and over who are baby boomers or Gen Xers.
BOOM! will stage musicals, comedies and dramas with older actors and creative teams, with the aim of creating a creative and social outlet for this age group. According to producer Val Renner, no other theater group in the area focuses on a group with this age range.
To top it off, everything happens on the Civic’s sleek new Knight Stage, which seats 200 and offers a black box theater experience.
In “Cabaret” the reference “Life is beautiful” comes from the ironically famous introduction that the extravagant Emcee makes at the beginning of the show in the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin in the melody “Willkommen”.
“Leave your worries out! So, life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no problems here. Life is beautiful here. The girls are beautiful … Even the orchestra is beautiful!” Actor Philip Formes rehearsed as Emcee in the show’s opening number on the Knight Stage earlier this month.
The ironic thing is that the Kit Kat Klub is a seedy cabaret, a place that celebrated decadently in 1929-30 when the Nazis came to power. The club itself becomes a metaphor for the threatening, threatening rise of the German Reich in a time of great political changes in the late Weimar Republic.
The show is an adult musical for mature artists. The Civic does not recommend “Cabaret” for children under 16 years of age.
The boom! Hailing from across Northeast Ohio, the cast includes actors with a variety of experience levels, from high school to professional theater backgrounds. They range from their 50s to lead actor, 73-year-old Akron’s Alan Klesh, who plays the fruit seller, Mr Schultz.
Director Sharon Alberson, 65, said the cast had really moved on, including learning German accents for some roles. As the first BOOM! show because it’s serious drama with great music that’s trending today.
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Communist, Socialist, and National Socialist parties fought for power in Germany. It was a time of great tension and uncertainty for all of the political groups.
“People didn’t know who to speak to in such a tense political climate,” said Alberson. “I think that’s a lot that we’re going through today.”
Actors did their homework for this pre-Nazi play. Tina Davis of Gates Mills, 55, plays the intricate role of Sally Bowles, a former English cabaret artist. Davis read some of the musical’s sources, John Van Druten’s “I Am a Camera,” to help her understand her flawed character. (The piece is an adaptation of the semi-autobiographical novel “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood from 1939.)
“Reading this really helped me see them differently than some of the things I saw on video,” said Davis of the Broadway Revivals.
Davis, who has never seen “Cabaret” live on stage or the famous 1972 film starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray, sees Sally as timeless.
“I Am a Camera” indicates that Sally is 19 or 20 years old. Portraying her as a more mature actress is a once in a lifetime opportunity, Davis said.
“I think she’s a very narcissistic person who keeps her head in the sand and has a wild child life,” the Gen Xer said of Sally. “It’s fun to play a flawed person.”
Playing Sally has long been on Davis’ bucket list. The actress, who grew up in Solon and performed theatrical productions for most of her life, took 15 years off while raising her two children.
“It’s a second chance to play some of the roles I may not have played and still can play,” Davis said of the BOOM! Theater opportunity. “If you are good enough to play the part and can handle it, then you have the opportunity to cast the part.”
Choreographer Brian Murphy has given Davis the freedom to create some of her own dance moves, which he’ll refine into numbers like the flirty, suggestive “Don’t Tell Mama”. In this story, Sally is the headliner of the Kit Kat Girls.
That makes Davis – a former cheerleader whose favorite part was dancing – happy.
“There is more freedom to do what I can think of, of course,” she said.
Davis, who previously performed in San Francisco before returning to Northeast Ohio in 2004, has performed everywhere from the Western Reserve Playhouse in Bath to the Cleveland Play House.
Formes, 61, is a Cuyahoga Falls resident who moved to the area in 2017 after spending a few years in New Orleans. Originally from Cincinnati, he is a professional singer, actor, and musician whose background includes singing at the New Orleans Opera and professional clarinet and saxophone playing.
“When I heard about the audition, I honestly didn’t really know much about ‘cabaret’ in terms of the roles,” he said. “When I heard it was for people over 50, I thought, ‘This is so great because my whole life has been music.’
“So many people think that after 50 they have nothing to do, which is ridiculous,” he said.
“This is a big awakening” from the pandemic, “said Formes.” People need to get out of the woodwork and enjoy entertainment and life again. “
“It really revitalized and reinvigorated my soul to be back and performing again,” said Formes, whose last show “Titanic” was on the Players Guild in Canton.
He said that “Cabaret”, which is set in the German era of pre-Nazism, shows characters who are at odds with themselves about their personal beliefs, sexuality or politics.
“The Emcee, I see him as some kind of advocate for the devil,” he said. “I hope to be able to portray him as a kind of androgynous Nazi sympathizer.”
Back to the boards
Akron’s Tracee McClain, 58, is happy to return to the stage with “Cabaret”. The actress previously worked professionally as an actress and singer in San Diego, where she had an agent and was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG / AFTRA). After returning to Akron in 1994, she left her gigs while raising her three children.
Now, an empty nest, she hadn’t played in 27 years when she saw the audition ad for “Cabaret,” which called for a cast of 50 or older.
“Hey, that’s me,” she told herself. “It was a chance for me to get back into acting.”
“I had to brush the rust off my pipes,” said McClain, who plays Kit Kat Girl Texas and can be seen in the dark, provocative song and dance “Two Ladies”.
40 years of return
Akron’s James Donaldson, 58, sees his return to the theater as a ray of hope after suffering from health problems in recent years. The retired paramedic, who appeared as a senior at Central-Hower High School in the “Cabaret” 40 years ago, now plays the nightclub owner and customs agent Max.
When he saw the Civic audition announcement on social media, he asked high school friends from his old performing arts program if they’d like an encore.
“I laughed about it to my wife and she said, ‘What are you waiting for? Fill out the damn paperwork, ‘”Donaldson said.
In 2016, he suffered a broken foot, followed by a severe broken leg that required multiple surgeries and ultimately resulted in the amputation of his right leg in November. Donaldson is now wearing a prosthetic leg.
“I was tired of being stuck at home during the pandemic,” said Donaldson, who decided the audition for “Cabaret” was worth trying.
“If nothing else, I had to stand on the main stage of the Civic and sing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me’,” said Donaldson of his audition song.
The performer using a stick said it was a little difficult to climb the steps of the Knight Stage and he doesn’t dance on the show. But Donaldson dismisses the idea that his participation in the show is inspiring.
“I don’t inspire anyone. I have a life to live,” said the performer, who was a business manager and drum sergeant with the Akron and District Pipe Band before the pandemic. “I don’t like just sitting around.”
Art writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.
Musical: “Cabaret” by BOOM! theatre
Where: Knight’s Stage at Akron Civic Theater, 182 S. Main St., Akron
When: September 24th to October 9th, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
On stage: Tina Davis, Phil Formes, John Herhold, Harry Cool, Rebecca Armstrong, Shelia Baronwright, Alan Klesh, Tim Fuller, James Donaldson, Laurie Keckler, Paul Kroeger, Kathy Keenan, Tracee McClain, Shareen Robinson
Backstage: John Kander, music, Fred Ebb, text; Joe Masteroff, book; based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel “Goodbye to Berlin”; Sharon Alberson, director / music director; Brian Murphy, choreographer; Lisa Brosovich, lighting designer / set designer; Kate Lawson, costume designer; Annette Malorni, stage manager
Costs: $ 20
IInformation: 330-253-2488, www.akroncivic.com or ticketmaster.com