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Plains Art Museum turns into a 'Cabaret'

Twenty years ago, Brandy Lee would've sashayed across the stage to play Sally Bowles, the singing, dancing object of desire in "Cabaret." Now 46, Lee knows she's too old to play the lead. Instead she's doing the next best thing -- producing and d...


Twenty years ago, Brandy Lee would've sashayed across the stage to play Sally Bowles, the singing, dancing object of desire in "Cabaret."

Now 46, Lee knows she's too old to play the lead. Instead she's doing the next best thing -- producing and directing a version of the musical.

Lee's company, Ursa Major Productions, stages "Cabaret" at the Plains Art Museum tonight through Saturday, then again Wednesday through March 26.

"I've always loved this show," Lee says. "I like musicals that have some grit, some meat to it, like 'Evita.' I don't always like happy endings."

The play follows a group of characters in 1930s Berlin. Against a backdrop of the rising Nazi threat, love unfolds between the entertainer Sally Bowles and Clifford Bradshaw. At the same time, the older landlady Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit merchant, fall for each other.


Rather than an idealistic love story, the play is fraught with deceit and betrayal. While life in Frau Schneider's flats are portrayed in living color, the hedonism Sally and the employees of the Kit Kat Klub display is largely portrayed in black and white.

The scenes in the cabaret comment on what's happening to the characters, with the Master of Ceremonies and dancers filling the role of a seedy Greek chorus.

Though the debauchery of the cabaret, in particular the crass, gender-bending Emcee, portrays the darker side of life in Weimar Republic, Lee says the show won't be as raunchy as the version currently staged in New York. Still, she recommends that adult themes and provocative pieces are best suited to audiences of at least high school age.

Lee says audiences double as the crowd at the Kit Kat Klub when the Emcee engages the members in some randy banter. Attendees are invited to get into the spirit with a bar open from 6:30 p.m. to show time at 7:30.

With space at the Plains limiting capacity to 150, the location adopts the more cozy confines of a nightclub.

Choreographer Kathy Gasper, of the Carousel Dance Theatre, says the location fits with the size of the production.

"This production is very intimate in the venue it's being performed in," Gasper says.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, Gasper danced in a touring production and a Broadway run of "Cabaret."


She says the more intimate performance forces the audience to pay closer attention to the lines than the spectacle of the dances and music. Still, she says none of the play's themes or tones get cut short with the scaled-down production.

"The Kit Kat girls are portraying what they are -- showgirls who make money on the side," Gasper says.

Lee credits Gasper and the other members of the local theater community who collaborated on the production. The show features Minnesota State University Moorhead theater professor Craig Ellingson as the Emcee, North Dakota State University music professor Andrew Froelich conducting and accompanying the orchestra, lighting design by Bryan Duncan of Concordia College and costume design by Peter Vandervort and help from Don Larew from NDSU's theater department.

"I really am inspired by the people around me," Lee says. "I really believe many of them are the best in their field. When you combine them, you get a level of theater that isn't always possible."She says she inherently knew Ellingson was right for the role of the ribald Emcee. Two years ago the two performed opposite each other in Ursa Major's production of "Evita."

"He gets to be everything," Lee says of Ellingson, who shaved his head for the role. "He gets to be straight, gay and a Nazi. He's the 'everyman character,' it's a chameleon role."

The role of Sally is in the hands of NDSU sophomore Kim Sava.

"It has pain, exuberance, naiveté and worldliness all in one person who needs to be able to sing and dance," Lee says of the challenges in casting the role. "If you can find youthful exuberance, you can't find the worldliness. It's not simple.

"There are very few actresses that don't want to play Sally Bowles."


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

If you go

What: "Cabaret"

When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday and Wednesday through March 26

Where: Plains Art Museum, Fargo

Tickets: Tickets are $17. Not recommended for children under the age of 16. (701) 232-3821

For 20 years John Lamb has covered art, entertainment and lifestyle stories in the area for The Forum.
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