Fishnet stockings reel in Saddleback students to the ‘Cabaret’ show

Director and two lead actors dish on the workings of their performance of the hit musical ‘Cabaret’

‘Cabaret’ cast and director Andrew Palermo’s group picture on set | photo by Andrew Palermo

The Saddleback College theatre arts program put on another wonderful spring performance at the McKinney Theatre. The ingredients in this mixing pot included German history, whimsical music and dances in fishnet stockings.

Cabaret” ran through April 1-9 and included six performances.

Director Andrew Palermo and musical director Mitchell Hanlon didn’t fail to bring the story of “Cabaret” to life. As an audience member, you could almost hear the detailed directions Palermo might have given to make this show what it is.

Some directors are fantastic acting coaches,” Palermo said. “Some are deft stagers. Some have a vision that moves into the design areas. Others are detailed dramaturgs. If you can find a director with all of those qualities — and is hopefully a kind collaborator — Jackpot! I don’t think most of us have all of those qualities, but I’d say my colleagues and I endeavor to at least be versed and comfortable within each of those areas.”

This musical takes us back to 1930s Berlin — the afterhype of the jazz age and rise of Nazis. We focus in on the Kit Kat Klub, a very special cabaret nightclub where an inspiration-seeking American writer Clifford Bradshaw (performed by Sebastian Bojorquez) meets a talented dream-chaser, Sally Bowles (performed by Rachel Valdez). Clifford meets an assortment of interesting characters, but none as desirable as Fräulein Bowles. 

We are guided by the Emcee (performed by Justin McCoy), whose sole purpose is to show, not tell. He entertains the audience with silly numbers, all the while expressing the severity of what is happening in the story — especially as early Nazi propaganda in Germany grows.

“As Sally and Emcee, we kind of provide ignorance for the audience to what’s happening in the current time period,” Valdez said. “So, I think that the numbers are really fun because of that but it is also very real, and I think it’s really important, specifically, for a lot of the stuff that’s happening now. Theatre is really important for people to sympathize with different things.”

As the story progresses, Clifford and Sally begin a relationship. The two discover the complexities of the world outside the comfortability of their little Cabaret. Though the entertainment never lacks, and the music is full of fun and heart, the show takes pride in its not-so-happy ending.

“I love that it’s a very real story,” McCoy said. “You’re dealing with real lives and real consequences, and real events that happened. Because of the build up of this such unfortunate movement that happened, you see how that affected people’s lives. And it ends on such a note that is not very happy, but it makes you think ‘wow.’”

Even with a shocking finale, this was a truly enjoyable performance and the cast and crew worked hard, honing in on every detail in order to bring it to life.

This is the type of show to make you feel something. McCoy goes on to boast about the “impactful” ending, and the feeling of his character center stage in a dead silent room.

“Audience reactions were really fun,” Valdez said. “Sort of getting to look them in the eyes and play with them a little bit.”

Audience reactions were practically essential to the performance. McCoy and Valdez said it gave them energy and that it was a friendly reminder that they’re doing their job right. Whether the audience was laughing, whistling, or going white-faced and dead silent, it truly made the show better.

The two lead actors also go on about the audition and rehearsal process, as well as challenges they faced making the show. Valdez mentions her difficulty with accents.

“We had a wonderful dialect coach, Jan,” she said, “and she gave us all individual things, as well as group stuff, that helped a lot with character work and also staying truthful to the time period and the sound.”

McCoy said he had difficulty with costuming — strutting in heels and fishnets — and the boldness of it all.

“It’s no secret that my character does not wear a lot of clothing on stage,” he said. “It’s kind of intimidating to be like, ‘okay, I’m just going to walk out and all these lights are going to be shining on me alone on stage wearing, like, almost no clothing.’”

The cast and crew are talented and committed to their art, but they are humble and cooperative, as well.

Palermo has enjoyed his time working at Saddleback and wanted to make sure the audience and his team knew it.

“I’ll admit that I was a bit reticent to work on such an important historical piece at a community college,” he said. “I’d never worked at a community college before and wasn’t sure what to expect. Now that the process has ended and we’ve closed the show, I can happily report that the student cast, stage management team and crew were all fantastic. Professional, good humored, game, and just a great bunch of peeps. I hope Saddleback will have me back.”

There was such a rollercoaster of emotions provided with “Cabaret” given both from the actors on stage and the audience. It was a performance to remember.