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Stars of Cinnabar’s ‘Cabaret’ say new production “does not hold back”

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PLANNING TO GO?

What: Cabaret, the musical

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

When: Aug. 30-Sept. 23. Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Admission: $25-$40, with tickets available by calling the box office at 763-8920.

Information: Visit CinnabarTheater.org.

There are not many people — especially among those who consider themselves fans of musical theater — who can say that they’ve never seen a production the musical “Cabaret.” Never seen the Master of Ceremonies sing “Willkommen.” Never watched the seedy ensemble of the Kit Kat Klub perform “Mein Herr.” Never heard cabaret singer Sally Bowles utter the line, “‘I used to pretend I was someone quite mysterious and fascinating. Then I grew up and realized I was mysterious and fascinating.”

But for singer-actor-dancer Alia Beeton, “never” is very definitely the case.

“I never saw the stage show, never saw the movie, knew almost nothing about it - but the title,” admits Beeton, who despite her unfamiliarity with the Kander and Ebb classic is now playing the lead role of Sally Bowles in Cinnabar Theater’s much-anticipated new production of “Cabaret.” Directed by Elly Lichenstein, with musical direction by Mary Chun, the production also features Cinnabar veterans Mary Gannon Graham (“Shirley Valentine,” “Always, Patsy Cline,” “Man of La Mancha”) as Fraulein Schneider, Michael Van Why (”La Cage aux Folles,” “The Happiest Fella,” “The Fantasticks”) as Herr Schulz, and Michael McGurk (“So Nice to Come Home To”) as the Master of Ceremonies.

“I was at a party Elly was at, and she was telling me about ‘Cabaret,’ and she said, ‘You should audition,’” recalls Beeton. “I did, and then I got a call-back for another audition, and next thing I knew, I was in the show.”

Beeton, seen last year in Main Stage West’s production of Si Kahn’s “Hope,” contributed the choreography for Shakespeare in the Cannery’s 2017 production of “In the Mood,” and last year filmed the role of Dr. Alexandria Ashe in Daedalus Howell’s upcoming science-fiction thriller “Pillhead.”

“I’m new to the stage in a way,” Beeton allows. “Though my profession was dance for many years, and though I’ve done some film work, I haven’t done a lot of work on stage. So I came to this production out of left field, a bit.”

Now that she’s become familiar with the show, its music, and the character of Sally Bowles, Beeton says she finally understands what the fuss is all about.

“I love ‘Cabaret,’ and I love Sally Bowles!” she laughs. “She’s a really complex character. At first she seems shallow, but there’s a gravitas to her that I didn’t expect.”

Since Sally is a singer and dancer in the Kit Kat Klub — a notoriously sleazy cabaret in 1931 Berlin, at the rise of the Nazi party in Germany — Beeton finds that the character is a perfect fit for her in terms of the skills required to effectively portray her.

“She’s the perfect marriage of my specific skills — singing, dancing, acting,” she notes. “I often get to sing but not dance, or dance but not sing — or act but not sing or dance. But using all three together is my most exciting happy place.”

For McGurk, who says that playing the Master of Ceremonies has been a dream since high school, getting to appear in “Cabaret” — his first time back at Cinnabar since “So Nice to Come Home To” in 2015 — has been a delight, despite the unsettling darkness that shows up in the musical.

“I’ve been having a blast,” he says. “The Master of Ceremonies is one of the greatest musical theater parts of all time. I wanted to play it in high school, but the drama teacher knew better than to try and produce this there. I went to a Catholic school, and some of the nuns would have had a heart attack.”

PLANNING TO GO?

What: Cabaret, the musical

Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.

When: Aug. 30-Sept. 23. Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Admission: $25-$40, with tickets available by calling the box office at 763-8920.

Information: Visit CinnabarTheater.org.

McGurk is a professional performer, having appeared on Broadway in “The Wedding Singer” and “The Music Man,” and performing in the touring production of “Doctor Dolittle.” In recent years, he’s been mostly performing in the Sacramento area, having appeared in productions of “Peter Pan,” “Big River,” and “Bye Bye Birdie.”

“One thing I love about how ‘Cabaret’ is written,” says McGurk, “is how the numbers that are performed in the Kit Kat Klub always seem to reflect, in some way, on whatever was going on in the previous scene outside the club. Some productions make the Master of Ceremonies a mysterious figure, a ghostlike presence who may or may not even be real. Some ground him in the reality of what was happening in Germany at the time, a real person who is responding, in his own way, to the increasing fascism and racist rhetoric all around him. That’s what we’re doing in this production. Mostly. We’re definitely not holding back from the harsher aspects of the story, while somehow still keeping it very entertaining and, a lot of the time, really, really fun.”

Both McGurk and Beeton agree that the timeliness of the piece makes working on this production feel like it’s more than just a lark.

“I believe musicals have the power to change people, by showing them the truth in a way that’s digestible and easy to ponder without wanting to close your eyes and ignore it,” says McGurk. “It’s going to be very powerful, I think.”

“I always see theater as catharsis,” adds Beeton. “Working on this show, it’s been very cathartic for the people involved. Hopefully, it will be cathartic for the audience, too. Right now, I think it’s more important than ever to tackle the hard plays.”

Echoing a bit of what McGurk said, Beeton points out that for all of the seriousness and looming danger embedded in the play, it’s hardly a gloomy show.”

“Act one is pretty much a party,” she says. “It’s a party that gets derailed in the second act, sort of like the party that was Berlin before the Nazis took power. We’re not holding back from any of it, and the first part is going to be good trashy fun.”

With a laugh, she adds, “We’ll get the audience into a fever pitch before pulling the rug out. It’s going to be a rollercoaster. It’s going to be great.”