Meet the Real Stars of CABARET: Rebecca Sohn

Compiled and edited by Kristina McCloskey

 

As we moved even closer to tech, my journalistic call was back again. This time, my victim-- I mean, my subject -- is the lovely Rebecca Sohn, playing the toast of Mayfair, Sally Bowles! 

Rebecca and I snuck into a hallway for a quick interview during one of our last full run through before tech. See her insights below! 

 

Rebecca Sohn, playing Sally Bowles in the No Stakes production of CABARET

Rebecca Sohn, playing Sally Bowles in the No Stakes production of CABARET

K: What was your first CABARET?

R: The first version I saw? Liza Minnelli -- the film.

I never saw it on stage. I wish I had, but I never did, and now I’ve just seen clips of productions here and there.

 

K: What is your favorite song in CABARET?

R: It’s so packed with songs – truly, I love every song so much…but I really love "Money". I mean…I love money like I love cash, and I also love that song. I think it’s so good – but, honestly, that’s such a tough question because there are so many great songs in [the show]. That’s why I like it.

 

K: Why this story now?

R: Oh, well, gosh. Isn’t it obvious? We are back here again…In a huge way. It’s incredibly timely, and the world keeps changing. We’ve made an enormous amount of progress, but now we’re going so far back in time. It’s…it’s maddening.

 

Don't miss out on seeing this phenomenal woman as Sally Bowles -- grab your tickets here and check out or FB Event for further details. We'll see you at the Kit Kat Club!

The Man Who Was a Camera: Christopher Isherwood

By Kristina McCloskey, Co-Dramaturg

"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair.
Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed"      
Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin

At times it's difficult to trace Cabaret back to its true roots. Did it come to life as a stage musical? A film? A play? Liza Minelli's fantastical day dream? 

There have been many iterations, interpretations, and artistic stamps made on this story. So, I propose we travel back to the start. 

Before Sam Mendes, before Alan Cumming,

before Natasha Richardson and Joel Grey and Fosse and Liza

before Kander and Ebb and Van Druten…

 

There was a man named Christopher Isherwood.

Who, clearly, had style from the very start. 

Christopher was a novelist, playwright, screen-writer, autobiographer, and diarist. He was also homosexual, which served as a theme in some of his writing. He was born near Manchester in the north of England in 1904 to a privileged, well-respected family. 

Over the course of his life, he befriended W.H. Auden, was asked to leave Cambridge for writing joke answers on an exam, enthusiastically explored his homosexuality in pre-WWII Berlin, became a U.S. citizen in 1946, adopted a man he was in love with, befriended Truman Capote -- and those are just mere samplings. 

But what of the connection between Christopher and Cabaret? The show stems from his collection of stories known as Goodbye to Berlin. While the show contains fictionalized versions of events and characters, there will always be the kernel of truth: Christopher Isherwood was in Berlin from the late 1920s to early 1930s, and he witnessed a special, fleeting period of time in a spectacularly unique place. Take a look at some quick facts about his life-changing stay in Germany below: 

 

 

1. W.H. Auden got Christopher to Berlin in the first place

Christopher first came to Berlin for a few weeks in March of 1929 to visit his friend, W.H. Auden. Auden and Isherwood were already close, having met at school in England when young. They collaborated on plays together, and often sent sections of writing to one another for commentary and feedback. 

Christopher visited Auden twice more, finally giving in and staying indefinitely starting November 1929. 

Isherwood (left) and Auden (right)

In his memoir, Christopher describes the Cosy Corner, a boy bar Auden took him to during his first visit...and perhaps a good reason he kept coming back...: 

"Nothing could have looked less decadent than the Cosy Corner. It was plain, homely and unpretentious. Its only decorations were a few photographs of boxers and racing cyclists, pinned up above the bar. It was heated by a big old-fashioned iron stove. Partly because of the great heat of this stove and partly because they knew it excited their clients, the boys stripped off their sweaters or leather jackets and sat around with their shirts unbuttoned to the navel and their sleeves rolled up to the armpits"  - Christopher and His Kind

 

2. Sally Bowles is based off English actress and cabaret singer, Jean Ross

Jean_ross.jpg

Damn look at that head tilt she knew what was UP

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Jean Iris Ross was sent to England for her education and rebelled against the strict regulations. She hopped from school to boarding school, at times feigning pregnancy to be expelled, and even had a stint at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. 

She set off to Berlin on the promise of acting gigs, and got work as a cabaret singer and model when those proved slim. 

 

In Berlin, she also met Christopher and the two hit it off marvelously. Much like Sally, she often bragged of her many lovers and even shared lodgings with Christopher. He described her as having "a long, thin handsome face, aristocratic nose, glossy dark hair, large brown eyes,” and was “more essentially British than Sally; she grumbled like a true Englishwoman, with her grin-and-bear-it grin. And she was tougher.”  He only revealed much later in his life that she was his inspiration for Sally Bowles. 

Jean was on holiday in England when the Nazis rose to power, so she did not return to Berlin. In Chelsea, she joined the Communist party, staying a member until her death. She kept up modeling, and also worked as a political writer. 

Unlike in Goodbye to Berlin, where the protagonist loses touch with Sally Bowles, Christopher Isherwood did see Jean Ross again. In his diary entry for April 24th, 1970, while visiting England, he wrote: 

“Then I had lunch with Jean Ross and her daughter Sarah, and three of their friends at a little restaurant in Chancery Lane. Jean looks old but still rather beautiful and she is very lively and active and mentally on the spot – and as political as ever. Sarah is a barrister and, according to Jean, hasn’t cared to marry because ‘ since she took to the law, she has seen so much of what marriage lets you in for’.  ...

Seeing Jean made me happy; I think if I lived here I’d see a lot of her"

 

3. He loved and he lost 

In 1932, a particularly ominous year, Isherwood fell in love with a young German man named Heinz Neddermeyer. They fled Berlin together when the Nazi uprising took place in 1933. Neddermeyer was refused entry to England on his second visit in 1934, and the pair moved restlessly about Europe. In 1937, Heinz was ejected from Luxembourg as an "undesireable alien," and he and Christopher were finally separated when the Gestapo arrested Heinz in May of 1937. They charged Heinz with draft evasion and he was sentenced to three and a half years of forced labor and military service. 

After Neddermeyer's arrest, Isherwood reunited with Auden and traveled to China, then to America to settle permanently in California. 

After Heinz Neddermeyer finished his sentence, he married a woman named Gerda and had one son, following in a similar pattern as other gay men after being arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis. 

The two men kept in correspondence, with Isherwood making a visit in the 1950s and lending Neddermeyer money when he needed to flee East Berlin. Little else was mentioned in Isherwood's diaries beyond recollections of their travels together, and a note Heinz sent to him when Christopher's mother passed away. 

Check out these resources for further information on Christopher Isherwood's experiences in Berlin: 

Christopher Isherwood Foundation

Cabaret Berlin - Diary Entry

Cabaret Berlin - Sally Bowles

Heinz Neddermeyer

 

 

 

Meet the Real Stars of *Our* CABARET: Greg Mills

Compiled and edited by Kristina McCloskey

 

Greg Mills plays Herr Schultz/Max and breaks hearts in the upcoming No Stakes production of CABARET.

After a run of Act One, I cornered him with my journalistic zeal when all he was trying to do was go home and asked him my pressing questions. 

 

K: What was your first version of Cabaret?

G: I have hazy recollections of Liza’s version growing up, probably just shards of it. And then, really not – I think I saw the ’98 version when it came out, or stuff on the Rosie O’Donnell show. I never really invested in the play. So, it wasn’t until I was cast that I began to dive it, and about a month ago I saw the touring production, the current one out that is modeled after the ’98 version.

 

K: What is your favorite song either in the Cabaret canon or our production?

G: Right now, coming off this run? I mean…"Money" is a pretty hot track. Of course I’m partial to "Married".

 

K: Why is "Money" a hot track?

G: Just the rhythm of it, the dancing, the way our choreography is. You know what –  before this I didn’t really like that song, so I’m starting to warm up to it. Ask me in a month.

 

K: Why this story now?

G: Why THIS story now? Oh. Well. Well, the obvious thing is there’s a bit of a political concern in our country. It’s interesting to note this play was chosen before our current administration was selected, so the stars are lining up. Also, because Erin really likes it.

For me, it’s good to play [Schultz]. I’m single and I’m older, so this is making me think a lot about…some stuff. Without weeping, openly. Kind of – it’s never too late. Until...it is too late. 

 

Curious to learn more about this fascinating character? Wondering if he ever made it home or if I launched into a detailed exposé of his life? You'll never know unless you join us at Berger Park's Coach House for CABARET, with previews starting April 20th! Grab your tickets here

The Real Housewi-- nope, sorry-- CABARET Stars of Berlin

By Kristina McCloskey, Co-Dramaturg of No Stakes Theater Project’s Cabaret

Claire Waldoff

“Then I saw the giant city Berlin and was overwhelmed. I immediately sensed the special character of this city, its unheard-of tempo, its temperament, its incredible brio...I fell passionately in love with Berlin. Not because the city was beautiful or the Imperial capital, but because it was Berlin, with its special atmosphere, its vivacious and curt character”
Weeste noch ...! Aus meinen Erinnerungen, by Claire Waldoff, 1953

 

Claire Waldoff won the hearts of the Berlin public with her short, stocky build, bushy red hair, and casual dress. She stood absolutely still while singing, only occasionally moving her head, rolling her eyes or using harsh, guttural vocals for expressive purposes (also common for me waking up in the morning).

Her brash, straight-forward nature epitomized a Berliner sense of humor. An example of this is below in her song “Ach Jott, Wat Sind Die Männer Dumm” (“My God, How Stupid Men Are”) below:

 
 

She lived openly as a lesbian with her partner Olga “Olly” von Roeder, and often took to portraying both the “men” and “women” characters while leaning into the innuendo-heavy songs she was known for. Although she portrayed solely lower-class characters, she appealed to audiences of all class-levels.

Waldoff’s popularity allowed her to travel from club to club around Berlin, moving about in fashionable social circles and turning into a personification of the modern Berliner (despite not being from there originally). Much like other women on the cabaret stage, Waldoff’s voice became the voice of the new age, reflecting the changing world around her.

Erich Kästner described the singing cabaret woman a voice for the emotions, experiences, and agonies of the time. She may not be beautiful or have a lovely voice, but “She sings what she knows. And she knows what she sings. And some of the things she performs stay with you for years.”

Her particularly stirring song “Es Gibt Nur Ein Berlin” (“There’s Only One Berlin”), which was banned by Nazis in 1933, is below:

 
 

 

Max Hansen

Max Hansen first appeared on stage in cabaret at the age of 17. In 1924 he moved to Berlin and regularly performed at the The Metropoltheater am Nollendorfplatz, and was a major name in operettas, revues, cabaret and radio. His greatest success was originating the role of Leopold the Waiter in The White Horse Inn.

In 1932, Hansen satirized Adolf Hitler as a homosexual with his song “War’n Sie Schon mal in Mich Verliebt?” (Have you ever been in love with me?).

 
 

This went over just about as well as you’d expect. Max then decided to go for gold by parodying soprano Gitta Alpár in drag in a film that same year.

 
 

In 1933 he left Berlin for Vienna, and then moved to Denmark in 1938 after the German invasion of Austria. He founded his own theater in Copenhagen. After the war, he returned to Germany in 1951 to reprise his role of Leopold the Waiter at Berlin’s Theater am Nollendorfplatz, so he truly won the waiting game on that one. Well done, Max.

 

Anita Berber

Anita Berber was raised by her grandmother after her parents (both artists) divorced, and her mother left to perform at the Chat Noir cabaret stage. After training in rigorous physical dance, she reunited with her mother in Berlin and they moved into an apartment together to really solidify the whole pageant-mom/daughter situation they had going for them. By 1918, Anita had begun her silent film career, was a well-known model, and performed solo.

Anita had an androgynous, unique allure, as you can see in two different styles of her dance work in silent film in the video below:

 
 

Anita also starred in the first film with a sympathetic portrayal of a homosexual man – Different from the Others.

In Berlin in 1919, Anita had a suite at the Adlon and would spend her nights touring the hotels and elegant restaurants of the city wearing nothing by a sable coat, her pet monkey around her neck and an antique brooch packed full of cocaine, AKA  my standard Friday night.

Anita was an open bisexual, and was rumored to have dated Marlene Dietrich before marrying poet and dancer Sebastian Droste. No word yet on how her mom felt about all this.

AnitaBerber2.jpg

Anita and Sebastian were immediately drawn to one another and convinced they could create something bold, new and shocking. They began rehearsals for their production of “The Dances of Depravity, Horror and Ecstatsy” as well as super heavy cocaine use (I can assure you, this hasn’t been the case for Cabaret…yet). Their relationship went about as well as you’d expect, and Sebastian ultimately robbed her and fled to New York. Anita went back to mama in Berlin, and then married gay American dancer Henri Chatin-Hoffman two weeks after meeting him. Byeeee, mom.

In 1925, Otto Dix painted a now-famous portrait of her when she and Henri were in Düsseldorf on tour:

Anita died from an advanced state of pulmonary tuberculosis, which she collapsed from while on tour for her and Henri’s production of “Dances of Eroticism and Ecstasy”. She was 29 years old.

 

Some excellent resources to check out if you're as fascinated by these folks as I am: 

http://www.cabaret-berlin.com/

http://www.advocate.com/women/2017/3/22/women-who-paved-way-cabaret-singer-claire-waldoff

Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History Vol. 1 from Antiquity to the Mid-twentieth Century

The Actor Initiative

The Actor Initiative

"Actors need to have a voice. They are often asked to compromise their mental health or their safety or their integrity in order to get roles because the rate of competition is so high - particularly women and actors of color. When it's as easy as it is for directors and producers to abuse that power, we need to take a closer look at how we do things. We need to look at the limitations that this industry has set for us, to take the rules apart and put them back together differently." - Erin Shea Brady, Artistic Director