On Stage: Cabaret comes to Wilmington

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


A trip to Wilmington, this week could also be a trip to Berlin – to Berlin in 1931 when the Nazis were first rising to power.

That’s because the National Tour of “Cabaret” is running from March 13-18 at the Playhouse on Rodney Square (10th and Market streets, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-888-0200, www. ThePlayhouseDE.org).

Based on Roundabout Theatre Company’s Tony Award®-winning production, Sam Mendes (“Skyfall,” “American Beauty”) and Rob Marshall’s (“Into the Woods” and “Chicago,” the films) “Cabaret” will play The Playhouse on Rodney Square in Wilmington for eight performances. This is the first time the Broadway revival has toured the historic Wilmington theater.

It features some of the most memorable songs in theatre history, including “Cabaret,” “Willkommen” and “Maybe This Time.”

This all-new production launched in December 2017 in Worcester, Massachusetts with tour direction by BT McNicholl (“Spamalot”), tour choreography by Jennifer Werner and original costume design by William Ivey Long (“Chicago,” “Cinderella”).

Set in the infamous Kit Kat Klub, the show features some of the most well-known songs in theater history – songs such as “Cabaret,” “Maybe This Time” and “Willkommen.”

The Kit Kat Klub featured Sally Bowles, the Emcee, and a rousing ensemble known as the Kit Kat Klub Band. Their invitation to audiences was to come to the Cabaret and leave their troubles outside.

The story focuses on Cliff Bradshaw, a young writer from America, and his relationship with the English cabaret performer Sally Bowles.

A sub-plot involves the doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor.

The Kit Kat Klub and its activities serve as a metaphor for the gloom-portending political scene in Weimar Germany in the early 1930s.

“The show demonstrates how people just wanted to have a good time,” said Bailey McCall Thomas during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Utica, New York.

Thomas plays the lead role of Sally Bowles.

“Cabaret” premiered on Broadway in 1966 and won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical as well as the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and the Outer Critics’ Circle Award.

The initial revival of “Cabaret” first opened on Broadway in 1998 and won four Tony Awards — including Best Revival of a Musical. It ran on Broadway for six years.

The show returned to Broadway at Studio 54 in March 2014, with Alan Cumming reprising his Tony-winning role as the Emcee. It played 423 performances through March 2015.

“I had seen ‘Cabaret’ on Broadway,” said Thomas. “It was the most recent revival, which is the same production as this tour. Before that, I didn’t know much about the show. I had only seen the movie back when I was auditioning for the tour. The movie is more familiar to people than the stage show.

“I like that it’s off-beat. All the characters are a little quirky and it tells a story. It has a real story. The whole aesthetic of the Kit Kat Klub – it’s really exciting.

“I think it’s pretty clear – especially in this version – what is going both socially and politically in Berlin at the time. People are shocked when they realize what is the real story.”

The role of Sally Bowles in the play is an eclectic role that has been performed by many top-flight actresses – including Jill Haworth, Brooke Shields, Natasha Richardson and Michelle Williams.

“I love Sally,” said Thomas. “I love her more every day. She doesn’t apologize for who she is.

“It’s a very emotionally-charged role. As an actress, it takes its toll on you mentally and emotionally. There is no room to hide. I have to be vulnerable at times because Sally is vulnerable at times. It’s also a physically-demanding role with three big production numbers right at the front.”

“Cabaret” is an enduring success – drawing patrons to the theater for more than 50 years.

“Audiences love it because it’s so entertaining,” said Thomas, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee.

“People relate to each of these characters. Everything about the show is so well-done. The music is so beautiful, and the script is so well-written.”

Video link for “Cabaret” from Tony Awards – https://youtu.be/wp5wskxKhh0.

The production of “Cabaret” will run from March 13-18 at the Playhouse. Ticket prices start at $40.

The Bad Plus

Last year, The Bad Plus had a minus – and then a plus. Things changed – and remained the same.

The trio from Minnesota lost a founding member, added a top-flight player from Philadelphia and never missed a step along the way.

On March 13, The Bad Plus, which now features Philadelphia jazz legend Orrin Evans, visits Evans’ hometown for a show at South Restaurant (600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-600-0220, www.southrestaurant.net).

The Bad Plus features bassist Reid Anderson, pianist Orrin Evans, and drummer Dave King. The addition of Evans was the band’s only line-up change in its nearly two-decade history. “Never Stop II” is the first full-length release from this lineup and is comprised entirely of original music with each member contributing fresh compositions.

Ethan Iverson, Anderson and King first played together in 1989 but it wasn’t until 2000 that they established The Bad Plus. The band recorded its first album after playing only three gigs together and later was signed to Columbia Records in 2002.

The intensely collaborative trio has constantly searched for rules to break and boundaries to cross, bridging genres and techniques while exploring the infinite possibilities of three exceptional musicians working in perfect sync. It is a group of passionate collaborators with no single “leader.”

“Dave and I grew up together in Minneapolis,” said Anderson, during a phone interview Monday morning as the band travelled from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia. “We’ve been playing together since we were 15. Then, I went to the East Coast. Dave went to L.A. and then came back to Minneapolis. Ethan was in New York.

“We were all band leaders. When we got together as The Bad Plus, the guiding principle was that it’s group music. We’re three leaders that come together and we get to be ourselves and have a band sound. It’s not ‘somebody and his trio.’ We made our first album with this group in 2001 and we’ve released quite a few albums since then. ‘Never Stop II’ is the first with Orrin.”

Evans was born in Trenton, New Jersey and raised in Philadelphia. He attended Rutgers University, and then studied with Kenny Barron.

He released the album “Trio,” which his debut as a leader, in 1994. Through 25 albums as a leader and co-leader, including his neo-soul/acid jazz ensemble Luv Park and the bracing collective trio Tarbaby, Evans has always followed a vigorously individual path.

“Last year, Ethan said he didn’t want to be in the band anymore,” said Anderson. “Frankly, it wasn’t a surprise. We wanted to continue the band and to carry on the legacy of the band and Orrin was an obvious, choice.

“I had known Orrin since the early 1990s. He’s just a player that we really respect. He has an outsider perspective that we all share. He’s a band-oriented musician – and a good friend. When we asked him to join, he had to think about it – for about three seconds.

“Orrin walks this line. He’s obviously a very respected jazz player. But, he goes into other territories as well. He has always been avant-garde.”

The same description could be applied to The Bad Plus.

“The Bad Plus is jazz and avant-garde,” said Anderson. “We’re a jazz group for sure and that should encompass the avant-garde, which is an established part of jazz. The two definitely co-exist.

“We’re just trying to make music that is personal. We also are trying to make music that comes from our influences – especially the improvisation part.

“We recorded ‘Never Stop II’ in September at a studio in Brooklyn. We always write individually and then bring the music to the band. In our current live shows, we’re playing everything from the album and some older stuff.”

Video link for The Bad Plus – https://youtu.be/vYAGyO0qdF0.

The shows at South Restaurant will start at 7 and 9 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Other upcoming shows at South Restaurant are Sarah Elizabeth Charles on March 14, David Dyson on March 15 and Christian Sands on March 16 and 17.

When it comes to producing top musical acts, Omaha will never compare to Brooklyn, L.A., Nashville or Austin.

But, Nebraska’s largest city has produced a good number of talented acts including Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes), the late Elliott Smith, Doug Ingle (Iron Butterfly bassist) and highly-acclaimed singer-songwriter Paul Williams.

High Up

Now, there is another act you can add to Omaha’s list of musical luminaries – High Up.

High Up has a family vibe. It features Christine Fink, her sister Orenda Fink (Azure Ray, etc.), Orenda’s husband Todd Fink (The Faint), Josh Soto, and Matt Focht (Head of Femur, Bright Eyes). The band draws from a wide variety of influences such as Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke, Smokey Robinson and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as well as Dead Kennedys and The Birthday Party.

The Nebraska-based quintet is now touring in support of its album “You Are Here,” which was released via Team Love on February 23. The tour brings them to the area on March 14 for a show at Bourbon and Branch (705 North Second Street, Philadelphia, 215-238-0660, bourbonandbranchphilly.com).

“We recorded ‘You Are Here’ at ARC Studios in Omaha,” said Christine Fink, during a phone interview Monday morning from a tour stop in Washington, D.C.

“We cut the album in March 2017 with the production done by Mike Mogis, who has produced acts such as Bright Eyes and Monsters of Folk. A few years ago, we released an EP that we made from demos. ‘You Are Here’ is our first full-length.”

High Up singer Christine Fink moved to Omaha to be closer to her sister Orenda Fink back in 2012. When Christine was living in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, she frequently sang in local karaoke bars and received great response.

“I had been playing music off-and-on since I was a teenager,” said Christine. “I was a journalist down south working at a newspaper. There were a lot of layoffs. So, at age 30, I followed my dream. My sister lived in Omaha and wanted me to move there. In 2012, my husband and I packed up and moved to Nebraska.”

After a few years in Omaha, Orenda noticed that Christine brought the house down no matter where she was singing with people of all ages and walks of life lining up to buy her drinks and even give her requests to sing their favorite soul songs. But Christine was depressed, feeling aimless, shuffling between minimum wage jobs, and the thrill of the weekend performances wore off quickly.

One night, the two began to talk about the future, and Orenda insisted that Christine should try and do what makes her happiest — perform for people. After much discussion, they decided to start High Up, a collaboration mixing elements of indie, punk and soul that showcased Christine’s powerful vocals and Orenda’s seasoned songwriting.

“My sister watched me at karaoke bars,” said Christine. “She said – you’re really killing it…let’s do our own songs. So, we fleshed them out and a few years later started High Up.

“She’s seven years older than me. I idolized her and her career path. As we got older, we lived in different locations, but we stayed close. When I moved to Omaha, it was the first time we lived in the same city. Now, we’re very, very close.

“Orenda is very good at writing songs. She does the lion’s share. Actually, she conceptualizes songs around me. It’s been nice to have a guru.
“Our music is 98 per cent originals. We did have one cover on the record. In our live set, it’s all originals except for one cover – a High Up version of Devo’s ‘Gut Feeling.’ We also sometimes do a Dead Kennedys cover in our encore. We don’t want to do obvious covers. Even with the one in the show, we take a Devo song and funk it up.”

Video link for High Up – https://youtu.be/clBeyUoE4vc.

The show at Bourbon and Branch, which has Whispertown and Blue Baby as opening acts, will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.

In a bit of a coincidence, another music act will be playing Philly on March 14 after releasing a new album on February 23.

Grant-Lee Phillips

Acclaimed Nashville-based singer-songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips is out on the first leg of a U.S. tour in support of his ninth solo album, “Widdershins,” which was released on February 23 on Yep Roc Records. The dates include a co-bill with Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses. On March 14, he will headline a show at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com).

“The album was recorded in the second week of May 2017,” said Philips, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Somerville, Massachusetts.

“The whole process was pretty concentrated. The songs were written over a period from November 2016-March 2017.

“The stuff came so quickly. I’m always writing. I finished my previous album and went on the road. I write a lot on the road because most of the time it’s just me and my guitar in a hotel room.”

The album was recorded over four days at Sound Emporium in Nashville. The 12-track set was produced by Phillips (guitar/vocals/keyboards) and cut largely live in the studio as a trio with Jerry Roe (drums) and Lex Price (bass). Mixed by Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists) and engineered by Mike Stankiewicz, the album delivers its poetic truths in Phillips’ peerless melodic sensibilities, relayed via vocal performances that balance intensity and vulnerability.

“If I could have put it out sooner, I would have,” said Phillips. “But, the record company likes to have a six-month window for release. That’s the way it is with albums. Folks that listen to me – as well as my friends and I – still prefer albums. But, I also do like having access to streaming. When you want to hear songs you haven’t heard in a long time, all it takes is a few clicks.”

According to Phillips, “Widdershins…it’s an old word — moving counterclockwise, spiraling backwards. The album begs the question, in what direction are we moving?”

The word widdershins is an adverb meaning “in a direction contrary to the natural one, especially contrary to the apparent course of the sun or counterclockwise: considered as unlucky orcausing disaster.”

“I took a whole left turn,” said Phillips. “I reflected on the news of the day – on what kept me up at night – on the social thread. The songs came quickly over a month or two.

“These are topsy-turvy, highly absurd times. Widdershins means counter-clockwise. People want to turn the clock back to times when there was less civility. Maybe we need to turn it back to even darker times.

“We know things aren’t O.K. and we’re being forced to look at our darkside. These songs answer a lot of those questions. As singers, the teakettle reaches a rolling boil and we sing out. There is a great deal of relief I get from singing these songs.”

Video link for Grant-Lee Phillips — https://youtu.be/ZzMkmWvkQ8Q.

The show at Boot and Saddle will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $22.

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