Menlo Drama Program Premieres ‘Cabaret’ Next Weekend; How Will They Avoid the Promiscuity?


Juniors Langley Ward and Annabelle Marenghi, sophomore Uma Misha and Senior Declan Stanton practicing one of their dance numbers at rehearsal. Ward, Marenghi and Misha are cast as Kit Kat Girls and Stanton is the MC. Photo courtesy of Sammie Dostart-Meers.

Ashley Grady and Ella Hartmanis

“If someone is coming to see ‘Cabaret’ expecting it to be something particularly scandalous or racy, then they are going to be disappointed,” Director of Creative Arts and Head of the Upper School Drama program Steven Minning said. Although the 1966 musical by Joe Masteroff does contain mature content, both Minning and choreographer Angela Curotto-Pierson have no concerns that the show will be inappropriate for the Menlo stage. 

The Menlo Drama program is no stranger to putting on shows that bring forth a little controversy, such as the somewhat raunchy musical Avenue Q performed in 2015. 

“It is interesting because the initial reaction from people is sometimes, ‘Oh. Oh, you are doing ‘Cabaret’?’ But I don’t think we’ve gotten flack or criticism for [the choice of show]. I think people are more interested to see how we will end up doing it or what the production will be like,” Curotto-Pierson said.

“Cabaret” takes place in 1931 Berlin, Germany. The show is about the romance between a young American writer and a cabaret performer whom he meets at a nightclub. It discusses themes of sexuality in a time where homosexuality was not accepted. There is an overarching theme of the increasing fear associated with the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

A majority of the production takes place in a nightclub, where the dancers, the Kit Kat Girls, are performing. “There is a common misconception that the Kit Kat Girls are strippers which they are not. Within the cabaret, they are dancers in various variety acts that can sometimes be underground in nature,” Minning said.

In the original musical, the Kit Kat Girls’ costumes and dance numbers would perhaps be considered too suggestive for a high school setting; however, making adjustments hasn’t been a setback for the Menlo drama department. “The focus is not trying to alter something, but more so how can we put our take on it that clearly isn’t more racy or sexy,” Curotto-Pierson said. 

As for costumes, the Kit Kat Girls will each have slightly different ensembles to match their individual characters. The base outfit is a nude-ish pink silklike jumper with shorts. Also, depending on the number, the girls will either wear nude or black stockings with black dance high-heels and a choker necklace. “I definitely think costume wise we’re trying to be tasteful and make sure [the clothes] are appropriate and comfortable,” Curotto-Pierson said. 

Sophomore Uma Misha likes when plays address more controversial topics and start conversations with the audience. “The messages of  ‘Cabaret’ are applicable to the time today, and seeing a show like ‘Cabaret’ initiates conversations about our modern world, so I think that it’s really good that Mr. Minning chose this play,” Misha said. She is cast as a Kit Kat Girl and has been involved in the Menlo drama program since sixth grade.

In order to bring the audience into the performance, the first couple rows of chairs in the theater will be replaced with tables in which actors playing patrons will sit, cheering and interacting with the cabaret performers. “We’ve created a bit of a world of 1931, Germany, Berlin,” Minning said. 

Opening night is Thursday, Oct. 31, which has raised some questions among students, considering this is Halloween. Since Flo Mo theater only seats about 200 people and the plays often sell out, Minning chose to add a fifth show, expecting a big turnout for the musical and wanting to satisfy the crowds. The choice to open on Halloween was not purposeful considering the holiday, but was merely schedule-driven; the 31st was the only day that could work. 

The fall productions are typically more difficult to plan because of Valpo Bowl and homecoming, and Minning and Curotto-Pierson had to make the choice between having the musical the same weekend as Valpo Bowl or Halloween, and Halloween seemed like the better choice, according to Curotto-Pierson. Andy Hayes is Menlo’s one technical director for both the Middle and Upper School plays. Hayes is in charge of building the sets for both drama departments and needs at least two weeks in between the productions in order for things to run smoothly.