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Jacob Lewis was in town visiting family when he heard from friends that Albuquerque Little Theatre was going to stage the 1998 Broadway revival of the hit musical “Cabaret.” Lewis called ALT to ask if he could audition for the role of the Emcee before leaving town. The very same day he auditioned. He landed the role.
“He was fantastic,” said “Cabaret” director Henry Avery. “After all the auditions there was nobody as good as him.”
ALT usually has local performers. Lewis is a former resident who graduated from the Manhattan School of Music with a bachelor’s degree in classical voice. He is an actor, singer and dancer living in New York City.
WHEN: 8 tonight and Saturday, Oct. 15, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16. Repeats Oct. 21-23, Oct. 27-30 and Nov. 4-6
WHERE: Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW
HOW MUCH: $24 general public, $21 seniors, $18 students, $12 children in advance at the ALT box office or by calling 242-4750 or by visiting www.albuquerquelittletheatre.org
ADVISORY: Contains violence, adult themes and language.
Lewis said he specifically wanted the part of the Emcee, even if it was in a community theater production a long way from home.
“I really wanted to get the role under my belt because it’s a role I would love to do in the future in a large scenario,” he said.
“To me, it’s all about the process, the process of learning the role, of doing the research. … An opportunity to dig into a role like that is really a wonderful experience no matter where it is, a New York stage or a New Mexico stage. It’s just as valid.”
Another reason for wanting the part is that Lewis, who graduated from Cibola High School in 1999, will get to perform in front of family members who haven’t seen him in a full stage production in a long time.
Avery said the production is the third reinvention of the musical that takes place in Berlin, Germany, in 1931, during the rise of the Nazis.
“It’s a much simpler version but it’s a little darker than the original. It’s a more serious interpretation of the material,” he said. “It hits heavier on the Nazis taking over and what they do to the Jews. It’s more pointed, more poignant.”
Avery said that the show has indirectly and directly been a part of his own life for many years.
When he finished summer stock, his dancing partner joined the original 1966 Broadway cast as one of the Kit Kat girls. And a good friend with whom he had written musicals went into the same cast as the understudy to Joel Grey, who was the first Emcee, and that friend played the part on tour, Avery recalled.
Later Avery directed the original version of “Cabaret” in Baton Rouge, La.
In the Avery-directed ALT production, Ryan Jason Cook is American writer Clifford Bradshaw, Emily Melville is FraÃ¼lein Kost, Dehron Foster is Ernst Ludwig, Ron Bronitsky is Herr Schultz, Carolyn Hogan is FraÃ¼lein Schneider and Mandy Farmer portrays Sally Bowles, the female lead.
The well-traveled Sally has arrived in Berlin, where she is the headliner at the Kit Kat Klub. She wants to be a singing star.
“She knows what she’s doing but she doesn’t let the world around her bother her. … Everything is a fairy tale. Hatred? She doesn’t care,” said Farmer, a senior contemporary dance major at the University of New Mexico.
This is only the second stage show Farmer has done; the first was a smaller, less challenging role in ALT’s “Hairspray.”
“Henry (Avery) has been very gracious in wanting to work with me to help my acting in bringing out this character,” she said. “Acting was never a part of my life until ‘Hairspray.’ I did show choir and dance studio competitions in middle school and high school. I grew up with singing, not a lot of acting. In show choir you have to have a lot of personality.”
To deepen her understanding of Sally and the musical, Farmer read Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories,” on which “Cabaret” is based, and she and Lewis visited Albuquerque’s Holocaust & Intolerance Museum.
The story inside the musical is about hatred, she said.
Lewis said he’s seen the award-winning Broadway revival production of “Cabaret” about a half dozen times and found it much seedier, much racier than the movie version.
“When I saw the revival the first time I left the theater feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach. It was one of those pieces of theater I thought about for days. It had such a tremendous impact on me,” he said.
“I saw it again and again and I left feeling the same way. It’s such a powerful, important piece of theater.”
Lewis thinks that the musical’s issue of racial hatred applies today.
“There is still a lot of racism, a lot of homophobia. There is still a lot of things we need to learn from. I think the theater is a wonderful way to learn that lesson,” he said.
Farmer said she’s learned in her dance studies that the idea behind a performance is to have the audience leave the theater changed. That same concept applies to audiences who see “Cabaret.”
“We want people to walk out changed in some form, in some way, regardless of what that is,” she said.