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‘Cabaret’ ushers in a new era for Fort Collins theater scene

Have the mid-semester blues got you down? Forget it. This week, the Colorado State University theatre department invites you to leave your troubles outside and give in to the delicious vice of “Cabaret.” It’s an evening of music, love, death, drama, dancing and all the other delightfully hedonistic pleasures of modern life, sure to lift even the lowest of school-burdened spirits.


The electricity is flowing from the first sight of the emcee, played by Kaitlin Kennedy, popping her head through a pair of red curtains with a mischievous, commanding look on her face, inviting the audience into a wild night of entertainment, extravagance and emotion.

The audience, of course, accepts the invitation. How could they not? With the sparkling lights, the rousing orchestra and the line of fish-netted showgirls — and showboys — posed alluringly along the perimeter of the set, who wouldn’t want to spend an evening at the Kit Kat Klub?

And that’s just the beginning. Add the dangerous, enticing presence of Kennedy’s emcee; Daphne Orenstein’s fun-loving, free-wheeling nightclub singer Sally Bowles; James Fagan’s conflicted novelist Clifford Bradshaw; Taylor Brotherton’s firm and feisty Fraulein Schneider; Ryan Wilke-Braun’s cold, secretive, Hitler-saluting Ernst Ludwig; as well as a host of others and you’ve got an act as intoxicating as the cocktails being served up at the club’s bar.

“Cabaret is a masterpiece in so many ways,” said Aaron Gandy, aiding music director and noted Broadway musician. “It’s a thrilling combination of not only dance, but drama, theatricality, spectacle and history. It is the example of the best that (musical) theater can do, which is to speak to the human experience, point out our foibles (and) entertain us at the same time.”

Certainly, the show itself is to thank for the magic exploding off the stage in the University Theatre. The Joe Masteroff penned script tells the story of sunny jazz club singer Sally Bowles’ ill-fated attempts to maintain her carefree Bohemian lifestyle amidst a Berlin whose sanity and morality are crumbling to bits around her.

This script is no doubt timeless. Add John Kander and Fred Ebb’s lively score, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a tasty piece of theater.

But the real magic of theater is created on the stage, not the page. And it’s the passion and dedication of the cast and crew, many of whom are members of the school’s burgeoning theater program, that really bring this show to life.

“Cabaret” will be playing at the University Center for the Arts until Nov. 17. 

From the dynamite performances given by the cast to the masterfully designed costumes, lighting and set — all created by CSU students Laura Myers, Lachlan Fordyce and Whitney Roy, respectively — the sheer power of creativity on display in the show is overwhelming.

Orenstein’s raw, exasperated rendition of “Life is a Cabaret” in the show’s second act was perhaps one of the most gripping moments of live theater I’ve ever experienced. It’s a testament to what the department of music, theatre and dance has in store for the coming years.


“I like that (Fort Collins) has a real strong sense of community,” said Director Noah Racey, a former Broadway actor and choreographer who recently took over as the head of the school’s musical theater program. “There’s growth here, growth in size, but it’s not overstuffed.” 

In his time here, Racey has spearheaded a grand, exciting makeover of the school’s performing arts department, which includes an influx of faculty with Broadway backgrounds, an increase in the financial aid available to incoming theater students and more intense, professional-level productions.

“We’ve been rehearsing since September; we rehearse at night, four hours a night,” Gandy said. “We’re pushing these students really hard, and they are up for the challenge, and that’s really a thrill.”

But the program doesn’t just cater to the students pursuing theater as a career. It wants its talent to come from all the different parts of the campus community, inviting students of all majors, all interests and all skill sets to be a part of this blossoming department.

“Considering it’s such a young program, we have folks in the show who are majoring in performance, (but we also) have biochemical engineers, we have brain surgeons in the cast,” Gandy said. “It doesn’t matter to us, of course, because if they can deliver onstage, they’re welcome.”

Among this outside talent is Ben Johnson, who plays Herr Schultz in the show.

“I’m actually a neuroscience major, but doing these shows is kind of a retreat,” Johnson said. “A lot of directors and professors that I know here have been like, ‘You have to leave everything that’s not theater outside here,’ and that’s kind of what I think the whole point is. For me at least … it’s an escape, and it’s … more expressive than (my other studies).”

This focus on diversity is emblematic of a much deeper purpose that this growing program serves — to instill students with a fuller understanding not just of their own academic and artistic disciplines, but how those disciplines converge with others and how that convergence unearths a deeper understanding of one’s own creative style — however that style manifests itself.

“Everything is leaning toward combining — it always has — combining music and dance and script and acting,” Racey said. “(Shows like “Cabaret” exemplify) why musical theater is so powerful; it can harness all these different winds and make this hurricane. … That’s what I’m excited about most, is that we’re not just training people to go and become a chorus person on Broadway or become a lead on Broadway. We’re training them for the entire scope of what it is to be an artist.”

This convergence is on full display in “Cabaret,” which is a brilliant, extravagant celebration of all things theatrical. It’s a rousing symphony of mankind’s infinite creative potential.

“Cabaret” is an impactful, not-soon-to-be-forgotten exhibition of everything that makes theater so great.

But it isn’t all jazz, drink and sacrilege. Woven into the Kit Kat Klub’s loose moral fiber is a deep, dark reality: the question of what’s real and lasting in life, what’s merely a product of our own imaginations and what to do when our imagined lives and our imagined worlds expose themselves as fraudulent. 

This highlights a deeper kind of convergence that the booming theater program hopes to foster. It’s the convergence not just of our means of creative expression, but the sacred, deeply-held beliefs they express.

“I’ve lived in the center of … New York City, (where the energy) is so beautiful to be a part of,” Racey said. “But I understand that we have an entire country that we’re starting to splinter off from, and everyone’s starting to grab hold. I want to be in the middle of that. I want to be in the middle of discussions that are hard, that we have to have.”

From its stunning and glamorous aesthetics to its deep and thought-provoking themes, “Cabaret” is an impactful, not-soon-to-be-forgotten exhibition of everything that makes theater so great. It’s a spectacular showcase of what the future holds for the swelling CSU theater scene.

“Cabaret” will be playing at the University Center for the Arts until Nov. 17. 

Scotty Powell can be reached at or on Twitter @scottysseus.

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