Showtime: Columbia cast and crew adapt the spring musical ‘Cabaret’ over two years due to COVID-19 concerns

By Kristen Gesicki, Staff Reporter

Kayla Macedo

Raise the velvet curtain! It’s finally showtime for “Cabaret” after a two-year-long affair.

Columbia cast and crew will take the audience back in time to the 1930s in Berlin, Germany. Right before World War II and Hitler seizing power, a love story brews between American Cliff Bradshaw, played by senior musical theatre major Dean Zaverdas, and English woman Sally Bowles, a worker at the infamous Kit Kat Klub, played by senior musical theatre major Isabella La Bove.

According to Elizabeth Swanson, adjunct faculty member in the Theatre Department and director of the musical, the team putting on “Cabaret” has made several changes to the performance over the years due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The show has gone through three iterations and imagining of a full production that was cast in March of 2020,” Swanson said. “That production had to be canceled because there was no way it could be fully realized in the early pandemic. It was then reimagined as a devised piece called ‘Tales of Berlin.’”

“Tales of Berlin” was performed in April of 2021 at the Courtyard Theatre of the Getz Theatre Center at Columbia College.

Swanson said as a result of the Omicron variant and rising COVID-19 cases during Columbia’s J-term, when the cast and crew were supposed to hold most of their rehearsals, they had to reimagine the show with limited rehearsal days left.

Lilly Villalba, a junior interdisciplinary major and the production stage manager for “Cabaret,” said the cast and crew “didn’t actually start rehearsals until Jan. 22,” but they have since been “rehearsing nonstop Monday through Saturday.”

“Cabaret” will be performed concert-style, with cast members standing and reading their scripts behind musical stands, except for five scenes of the performance. The exceptions include three dialogue scenes and two dance numbers, which will be fully staged with performers wearing masks throughout the show.

For some students, this two-year process has been a blessing in disguise in the form of bonding with cast and crew.

Natalie Henry, a senior musical theatre major and Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret,” has been a part of the musical since its original casting back in the spring of 2020.

“I feel a lot more love and compassion towards the show and towards everybody involved,” Henry said. “I’m sad that we didn’t get to have the process that we could have had, and I’m sad to see all these people go that were a part of it. But I’m excited for [former cast members] to be able to come see it.”

Bella Blackshaw, a senior musical theatre major, has also been with “Cabaret” since its original casting. Blackshaw will be performing in multiple ensemble roles in “Cabaret.”

Blackshaw said one of the biggest obstacles in rehearsing “Cabaret” was learning how to create intimacy between the cast with COVID-19 restrictions in mind.

“That’s been a struggle, figuring out how to create intimacy without physical intimacy,” Blackshaw said. “I’ve never had to do that before, but in this new world of COVID, I have a feeling that will become more common. It’s been a really good experience to kind of try to navigate that for the past like two years.”

For the cast and crew, there have been many changes, but the show must go on.

“The design team and cast has once again risen to the occasion,” Swanson said. “I think ‘Cabaret’ can once again represent hope. Because we’re going to do it; we’re going to produce the show.”

“Cabaret” will be performed at the Getz Theatre Center at 72 E. 11th St., opening on Wednesday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m., and running through Saturday, Feb. 19. Tickets will cost $10 for students and senior citizens or $15 for the general public. 

“When you come and see our show, take all of it in,” Villalba said. “Take a moment, breathe, appreciate the set, the lights, the costumes, makeup, hair, everything. … I’m excited for people to come and see the work that we’ve done.”