At Source, Life Is a Kabarett’

Posted April 3, 2009 at 4:05pm

Just because the U.S. economy is in shambles does not mean people should stop having fun. If anything, now is the perfect time to be bold. And that’s precisely what In Series is doing with its production of “Berliner Kabarett— at the Source Theatre on 14th Street.

“Berliner Kabarett— presents a hodgepodge of funny, political and raunchy songs by some of the boldest of German composers — Kurt Weill, Friedrich Hollaender and Hanns Eisler — and from satirists Kurt Tucholsky and Walter Mehring and dramatist Bertolt Brecht.

The In Series production is set in 1920s Germany. Still smarting from the ruins of World War I, Germans put the country in the hands of a Social Democratic government — the Weimar Republic — to wiggle out of the recession. It was also a time of social liberalism when artistic expression was less regulated and when cabaret became a forum for controversial social and political themes.

“We’ve been interested in this period … when all kinds of artistic things happened,— said Carla Hübner, In Series artistic producing director and founder. “At the time in Berlin, there was a sort of anything goes’ attitude and lots of experimentation and a lot of that energy was channeled through cabaret theatres,— whose performances were “risqué, risky and edgy.—

Apparently wanting to replicate 1920s Berlin cabaret edginess, Hübner tapped Christopher Gallu to direct “Kabarett.—

“He’s got a wonderful track record,— she said. More important is that Gallu is very familiar with Brecht whose works are featured in the show. Brecht is famous for creating the musical comedy “The Threepenny Opera,— which has been translated into 18 languages and performed around the world.

Despite not having experienced directing cabarets, 39-year-old Gallu took on the challenge. He said, “I’ve decided to try something new,— which is no surprise coming from the former lawyer who quit law at age 30 to form Catalyst Theater.

“Both my parents sort of thought that I was insane,— Gallu said with a guffaw. But he is serious about theater. At rehearsal, he pays attention to every detail. He does not have qualms about trying new ideas and does not mind hearing suggestions from actors.

And because he is a traditional play director, Gallu said he was keen for “Kabarett— to have a narrative arc. He added, “In straight plays, I am dealing a lot more hardcore acting issues and character development — things you don’t do in a cabaret setting.—

To complement Gallu’s expertise in directing plays is pianist and accordionist Alice Mikolajewski.

Distinguished from other forms of entertainment, cabarets are held in a nightclub. That is exactly what the Source Theatre has been transformed into. The stage consists of a liquor bar, some tables and chairs and an upright piano.

To offset the stage’s simplicity are a handful of actors, who were “selected for beauty of voice and acting ability,— Hübner said, adding, “We only deal with legit singers here.— These actor-singers are Ashley Ivey, Emily Levey, Tara McCredie, Jim Scopeletis and chanteuse Sally Martin.

“She has an impeccable style for German and French music. She really, really knows the material very well,— Hübner said of Martin. She received accolades for her portrayal of Marlene Dietrich.

Because of the powerful voices, Hübner said “Kabarett— does not have to include some accoutrements to make the show flashy. “No microphones, no gimmicks. Just the voice. The idea here is to be very intimate and speak to the heart of each person— in the audience, she said.

1920s Berlin cabaret is “dear to me,— Hübner said. “The songs are not just sentimental. They are compelling such that they remind you about the complexity of life.— Among these songs are “Alabama Song,— “Falling In Love Again,— “Lili Marlene,— “Lola,— and “Surabaya Johnny.—

“We think it’s going to be a pretty interesting evening. We are combining German and English in several songs. We are paying tribute to the German language where the songs originated because that’s part of what the In Series does: bridge the language gap,— Hübner said.

“Berliner Kabarett— runs on April 10, 11, 24, 25 and May 2. For tickets and information, call 202-204-7763.