“I saw the film version and … I wasn’t that impressed with it,” says Tracey Williams-Sutton, director of Ojai ACT’s production of “Cabaret.” Because it’s celluloid-centered, then video, Bob Fosse’s version of “Cabaret” with Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli has been most people’s introductory to the world that Christopher Isherwood created all those decades previous. But it also doesn’t take much to find the original source materials — Isherwood’s short stories, Josh Van Druten’s play based on the stories, and the musical with a book by Joe Masteroff (music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb) — have many more delights available. And that Williams-Sutton’s opinion is not rare.
The setting, for those who have be wilkommen’d to the Cabaret, old chum, is the Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin. The Nazis are rising to power. Sally Bowles is young, British and a performer at the club. Cliff Bradshaw is young, American, a writer in search of inspiration, and soon to fall in love with Sally. And then there is the Emcee, who introduces us both to the club and to the society around them, which is becoming increasingly deadly.
Holly Ferguson plays Sally Bowles, Zach Farber plays Cliff, and Cecil Sutton, Kathy’s husband, plays the Emcee. The casting of her new husband (the two met just over a year ago at a production of “Private Lives”) was a bit awkward.
“The producer and I were nervous when he came to the audition,” Williams-Sutton says. “What if he was horrible? Luckily, I just kept my mouth shut and they (the Art Center board) all turned to me and said, ‘he’s the best.’ ”
Of course, she wanted Cecil to get the part, but wouldn’t push for it. “He kept saying that I should find somebody better,” she laughs.
The show also features Santa Barbaran Lara Holloway in two minor roles.
Williams-Sutton, who has been directing musicals for many years — and acting in non-musicals when she has the chance — comes from a theater family. Her father directed musicals himself and it sort of got handed down, she says. As a young girl, she stepped in anytime her father needed a child character on stage. She also used to pick out the dress colors for the actresses to wear. “He trusted my judgment for some reason in that area,” she says.
Also as a little girl, Williams-Sutton says, she remembers being in West Berlin, and her mother taking her up to look over the Wall to gaze down into East Berlin. The mother made sure to point out the lack of color, the patrol guards, the frightened crowds, the gun turrets, the wreaths against the wall for those who had tried to escape.
Those memories attracted her to the play and musical, hence her need to direct her production. “The play imparts that impending annihilation of six million people, while in the cabaret life is normal and people are ‘sleepwalking.’ People don’t notice thing unless it starts to happen to them. It’s a warning piece. Don’t be ignorant of what’s going on in the world, as it’s a very small world.”
When: 8 p.m tonight and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays; Through July 25
Where: Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 South Montgomery St., in Ojai
Cost: $25 general, $22 seniors, students and Art Center members
Information: (805) 640-8797 or www.OjaiACT.org