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There She Is. . . Sally Bowles?

1998 Miss America ditches her wholesome image and stars as sultry 'Cabaret' singer.

August 07, 2000|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine for a moment Miss America in fishnet stockings and black lace with decaying teeth and a bad complexion.

That's just what fans of the crowned beauty will see when the musical "Cabaret" swings into town for a six-day revival at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. Shows start Tuesday and end Sunday.

In the production, 1998 Miss America Kate Shindle downplays her looks as she takes the part of sultry nightclub singer Sally Bowles, who performs memorable numbers such as "Cabaret" and "Maybe This Time." Shindle is on national tour with the Roundabout Theatre Company.

The musical, based on a book by Joe Masteroff, is set in Berlin's seedy Kit Kat Klub and centers on an Englishwoman's romance with an American writer. (The nationalities were reversed in the film.) The backdrop is Germany at the start of the Third Reich.

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Dark and sexually suggestive, "Cabaret," first staged 34 years ago, was reinvented for today's audience with a quicker pace, plus additional songs and scenes.

Co-director and choreographer Rob Marshall worked with director Sam Mendes on re-creating the musical. Mendes won an Academy Award for his directorial debut, "American Beauty." Marshall's choreography credits on Broadway include "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and the revival of "Damn Yankees."

Marshall and Mendes have won four Tony Awards for their revival of "Cabaret" since it was restaged in 1993. John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote the music and lyrics to the 2 1/2-hour production.

Marshall said he strove for realistic details--torn stockings, broken lightbulbs and needle marks from drug use.

"We created this seedy world that was delicious and shocking at the same time," said Marshall, calling from his home in Manhattan.

Marshall said his goal was to make the choreography "artfully artless."

"I purposefully made movements look sloppy and off-step at places," Marshall said. "I had to curb myself from doing something too slick and smart. The moves are sometimes naughty and vulgar."

The producers also have changed the songs. The ballad "Maybe This Time," for instance, was added from the 1972 film version to give access to Sally's inner landscape that didn't exist in previous stage productions, producers said.

Some songs, including "Fruit Shop Dance" and "Telephone Song," were removed. The number "I Don't Care Much" appears later in the second act to foreshadow events.

The most dramatic character change makes Clifford Bradshaw, the American writer, bisexual, as he was in the movie. The changes, Marshall said, make the play more convincing.

"It's a musical and a tragedy. Now that's theater," Marshall said. "There are moments of humor. The show is seductive as well, not just grotesque."

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At the core of the story is the enigmatic Sally Bowles, who appears for the first time in a dressing room--a new scene.

Shindle, 23, first tackled the role six weeks ago. She plays the exuberant, 19-year-old Bowles, who comes to Berlin with little other than "emotional baggage."

Shindle's girl-next-door appearance offers depth to her character, she said.

"Even if Sally looks innocent, there's enough turmoil underneath it all to carry the story through," she said.

Shindle, who had not seen the musical before, auditioned in early June. The New York City resident said the role is her biggest yet. She joins the company directly from Broadway's "Jekyll and Hyde," where she understudied the role of Lucy. This week's performance will be her Orange County debut.

Shindle said she has no intention of resting on her laurels as Miss America and will continue to pursue challenging roles.

"The contrast between Sally and the image of Miss America is huge, and people like to ask if I'm trying to get away from the wholesome image," said Shindle, calling from a tour stop in San Diego.

"But I'm not," she said. " 'Cabaret' is a good show. I suppose I could coast on the title, but it won't last long, and challenging roles like this will help me develop my craft."

Bowles' boisterous counterpart is the club's sleazy emcee, played by British actor Jon Peterson, who performs hallmark numbers "Willkommen" and "Money."

"The emcee is human nature in all its glory and flaws, so he has redeeming qualities," said Peterson, 38, of his character. "That's what makes him fascinating. He always has the audience on edge. He likes to grab the audience by the hand, or hair, and challenge them, goad them, caress them and seduce them. You never get used to him. [Audiences] can't expect to be comfortable."

The original Broadway production of "Cabaret" opened in November 1966 and played 1,166 performances. It received eight Tonys, including Best Musical. The film version won eight Academy Awards.

Creators of the revived musical say the "Cabaret" story must be retold.

"We keep exploring the Holocaust because it's one of the most baffling and shocking events of the 20th century," Marshall said. "Many stories are created to help us understand how something like that could have happened through unforgettable characters, like Sally Bowles and emcee."

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"Cabaret," Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Opens Tuesday and runs through Sunday. Tuesday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m. Matinees: Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday's matinee performance will be interpreted into sign language. Tickets: $28.50-$57.50, Tuesday-Thursday; $33.50-$62.50, Friday-Sunday. (714) 556-ARTS or Ticketmaster, (714) 740-7878.

Vivian Letran can be reached at (714) 966-5835 or by e-mail at vivian.letran@latimes.com.

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