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Come to the ‘Cabaret,’ my friends – and support a worthy cause

By |2005-06-02T09:00:00-04:00June 2nd, 2005|Entertainment|

ANN ARBOR – Concerned about the direction in which he saw the country heading, Ann Arbor resident, theater director and activist Chris O’Brien made two important decisions: He decided that his next theatrical endeavor would make a timely political statement, and it would help raise funds for a worthy case. And the perfect vehicle to do that, he thought, was a popular, but edgy musical about political apathy!
So a year and a half ago, O’Brien approached the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre with a proposal to stage “Cabaret,” the evocative 1967 Tony Award-winning musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb. His efforts will pay off beginning June 9 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.
“I love the show and I love the message of the show,” O’Brien recently told BTL before the start of a rehearsal. “It’s a beautiful piece of work.”
It’s also a work that O’Brien has researched quite carefully – and the coincidences he discovered helped convince him that fate is in his corner with this production. “The Mendelssohn opened in 1929, the play is set in 1929 and the Civic Theatre started in 1929. ‘Cabaret’ seemed the perfect fit.”
“Cabaret” is not your typical musical, the director noted. “It is more of a drama – a tragedy dressed up as a musical, as opposed to an out-and-out entertainment musical comedy.”
In fact, the story was downright shocking to some theatergoers when it premiered in 1966 – and it still is to some today. So because of both the historical and the controversial aspects of the production – it’s set in Berlin’s hedonistic pre-Hitler era and based upon gay writer Christopher Isherwood’s experiences living in Germany between the two World Wars – the director recognizes he has responsibilities to not only his own artistic vision, but to the A2CT and its audience members, as well. “We’ve done tons and tons of research, so there’s nothing that’s done at any level of the show for any other reason than to serve the show or to serve the message that we’re trying to get across.”
Of course, that doesn’t stop O’Brien from serving up eye candy for the audience to enjoy. Or from showing a little skin every now and then.
“Any show I direct I want to keep people happy. If there’s a [part of the show] that’s less interesting for some people, perhaps if there’s something pretty to watch, it doesn’t hurt. We have amazing-looking women; John Jarboe, the Emcee is gorgeous – it’s a really attractive group of people. So hopefully there will be something for everyone,” the director laughed.
There’s even a number to keep the straight guys happy!
What drew O’Brien to the musical were the parallels he saw between its story and what was currently happening politically all across America. “It was just so frightening to me. The more research I did, the deeper the connection became for me.”
The musical’s message about political apathy – and what happens when you ignore the danger signs – became particularly relevant for the director last year while he was working to defeat Proposal 2. And it’s a warning some in the LGBT community failed to take heed as evidenced by its passing. “I was going door to door and trying to get everyone involved – and I had friends who are being impacted by this who would rather go out and party.”
Staging a full-scale musical is not a one-person endeavor. Assisting O’Brien as the show’s co-producer is his life partner of 21 years, Mike Romatowski. Together, the two have collaborated on numerous productions throughout the area. One of his assignments for “Cabaret” was to coordinate a special June 11 fundraiser.
“We chose HARC – HIV/AIDS Resource Center,” Romatowski said. “They’re one of the hardest working groups in the area.”
Because additional costs will be incurred by A2CT as a result of the extra Saturday afternoon performance, it was Romatowski’s job to locate sponsors to subsidize the event. “We tried to go outside the normal sphere of A2CT supporters,” Romatowski said. And to date, he has been quite successful.
Ninety percent of the Saturday afternoon ticket sales will go directly to HARC. Any additional monies raised through sponsorships over and above what’s needed to pay for the performance will also be donated to HARC.
“The potential is to raise a goodly sum for HARC,” he said.
With the play scheduled to run during Pride Month – and the benefit on Washtenaw Pride Day – both men are expecting big crowds at all of their performances.
“We are really working to help the show resonate with the community,” O’Brien concluded. “Audiences can come celebrate pride with us and support a worthy cause, and then go party.”

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