By Elizabeth Gracen:
My friend Hilary Thomas is unrivaled when it comes to sheer artistic output and vision. Offering an impressive catalog of original dance, drama, comedy, and musicals, her ultimate creation—The Lineage Performing Arts Center (LPAC)—continues to unfailingly produce outstanding entertainment that beats with a fiery heart and unflinching ability to highlight and challenge life’s most pressing issues.
Thomas has written, directed, and produced some of the most powerful theatre in the Southern California region, such as After Roe, Mother Places, Ceiling in the Floor, Arc of Evolution, The Brain in Motion, and more. So when I asked her why she’d chosen the ever-revived morality tale of Cabaret as her next LPAC endeavor, she didn’t hesitate to throw the spotlight on the carefully curated Lineage family that she has assembled, nurtured, and collaborated with since the inception of Lineage—a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization with a mission to make the arts accessible to all and to partner with other nonprofits to raise awareness and funds for important causes.
“We have a ridiculous amount of talent here, but we don’t have a lot of space, and we don’t have a lot of money. Our productions are always heavy on the dance component, so it’s always a challenge to figure out what will work. It's not like we can transform the theatre into a small town in Oklahoma!” laughed Thomas.
With the usual LPAC stable of artists at her disposal, Thomas instinctively knew that transforming LPAC’s black box performance space into Cabaret’s Kit Kat Club somehow felt like a natural fit. With Aidan Rawlinson and Jana Souza available to take on the parts of the Emcee and Sally Bowls, respectively, and the talented Lineage Dance Company to work their magic, she knew that they could pull off an original, intimate production that would elicit audience immersion (another Thomas fascination) into decadent late 1920’s Berlin and the Weimar Republic’s ever-tightening fascist fist.
“There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies, and there was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany—and it was the end of the world.” —Cliff Bradshaw, Cabaret, Act II
A dark, cautionary tale set against the backdrop of the Nazi Party's rise to power, Cabaret’s sinister Emcee welcomes us to take a seat and forget about the world outside and all those “prophets of doom.” The decadent distraction of the Kit Kat Club and its shady characters cloak all worries in a murky promise of carnal delights with the unforgettable music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff.
“Come taste the wine, Come hear the band. Come blow your horn, Start celebrating; Right this way, Your table's waiting.” —John Kander, Fred Ebb, & Jean-Claude Cosson, "Cabaret," Cabaret
The history of Cabaret is an oft-told tale that has been revived and renewed over time. Unfortunately, its message must be told over and over again, lest we forget that history repeats itself as we willfully turn our gaze away and lend an ear to authoritarian whispers.
For some, the 1972 award-winning big-screen adaptation directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minelli is the first reference that comes to mind when they think of Cabaret, but the play has been around for much longer. Based in part on Christopher Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin that appeared at the end of World War II, it was later adapted for stage during the McCarthy Era as I Am a Camera.
The original musical version of the play premiered during the Vietnam War, and Fosse’s sultry, star-powered version hit the big screen during the dark days of Watergate. It goes without saying that 2024, with its political unrest and flirtation with nationalist ideas, fits appropriately on the play’s revival timeline. The musical opened on Broadway in 1966, but a steady stream of revivals have been produced in America and England, with yet another Broadway revival planned for 2024 starring Eddie Redmayne and Gayle Rankin.
For the Lineage production of this tale told in the waning light of the Jazz Age, Thomas has partnered with long-time friend and collaborator Austin Roy, who serves as co-director for the show. “Austin was the Emcee in the high school production of Cabaret when he was a student at Flintridge Prep, where I teach, so it was terrific to have him step in and work on this particular production with me—our first time directing together. My head has been in a million places trying to wrangle all the artists, musicians, actors, dancers, plus dealing with the business end of the production. It’s really wonderful to have Austin focus his talents on the acting aspect of the show. We are very much in synch, and I feel very lucky,” said Thomas.
Any production faces obstacles before opening night, but launching this new production of Cabaret entailed a particular set of challenges. “Honestly, the biggest challenge has been getting everyone in one place at any given time,” said Thomas. “It’s a big cast. We now have five chorus girls, the on-stage band, seven dancers, and seven actors. It’s a lot of schedules to coordinate. For a lot of the rehearsal period, Austin and I would visualize and rehearse all of the separate elements of the play with the performers, but we didn’t have the opportunity to have everyone together until recently. Up until then, we just had to mash it together in our heads to envision the final piece. . . . Fortunately, it looked pretty great!”
For the star, Aidan Rawlinson, based in NYC, his participation started in the summer of 2023 when he came back to Pasadena for a visit. Another window of rehearsal opportunity opened up for him during the Thanksgiving break, followed by remote Zoom rehearsals.
“Aidan is such a special performer. When you hear about triple threats in this world . . . I mean, I feel like so many performers lean heavily in one direction. They are a singer first and foremost, or a dancer, but Aidan is both. He is so compelling to watch. Just wonderful,” said Thomas.
Staple star performer for Lineage Jana Souza returns to the stage in an actor’s dream role of Sally Bowls. “Jana enters the process in a wonderfully egoless way. She makes all of the songs so incredibly beautiful, but there is just so much going on with how she approaches the character. She is so trusting and willing to go in whatever direction. She’s also so easy to work with, and she’s a true performer. And on top of everything else, she’s the first one to show up and say, ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ And she’s the star of the show!” Thomas said. “Everyone involved is truly supporting the production and holding it up, and Jana truly leads the way.”
This work ethic and careful tending to all things Lineage is not uncommon at the arts center, located at 902 E. Mountain Street in Pasadena, CA. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many a production with the group and have always said that Lineage is a creative portal for performers and audience members alike. When you enter that portal, you find a safe space, an environment that nurtures its artists and respects its audience. That is something deserving of the most loving care and attention.
When I asked cast member and long-time part of the Lineage family Cynthia Crass what her reaction was when Hilary invited her to play the character of Fraulein Schneider, landlady to Sally Bowls and Cliff Bradshaw, Crass said, “My usual reaction to when Hilary calls with an invitation—THRILLED. On many levels. One, I love this show. Two, it’s a great character that I am now old enough to do justice to. And three, it’s a Lineage thing, and my heart always benefits from being in the Lineage family.”
In the director’s notes for the upcoming show, Thomas credits her “giant army of talented artists, dedicated staff,” and her frequent producer, Peggy Burt, for bringing the show to fruition. Alan Geier and his band serve as onstage Kit Kat Club music. Dancer and set designer Ericalynn Priolo has stepped in to transform the space into the Kit Kat Club, and curator Theresa Kennedy provides artful historical context in the Jeanne and Cliff Benson Family Art Gallery outside the performance space to assist in the complete immersion into the seedy shadows of the Kit Kat Club and Berlin, Germany.
To round out the production, Paul Siemens takes on the roll of Herr Schultz, with Dustin Stern-Garcia, Keila Joy Fisher, Marco Tacandong, David Hemphill, Sam Wilkes, Brittany Daniels, Caterina Mercante, Teya Wolvington, Molly Mattei, M Cantu, Sol Joun, Diana Leon, Sophia Kaminski, Courtney Simpson completing the cast. Pianist Alan Geier is joined by musicians Jacob Bell, Ruth Siegal, and Sherwin Zhang. Crew members include Mike Testin, John Guth, Noelia Cortes, and Jennifer Quiroz.
The production is made possible by the Featured Production Sponsors: the Burt family, Nina Gutin, the Guyer family, Terry and Jeanie Kay, John and Jo Schillinger, Jeannie Vaughn, and Daria Yudacufski.
Come out and play with Lineage and Cabaret, January 12–20, 2024.
Visit the Lineage Performing Arts website for more information and to make a donation to this fine arts nonprofit organization.