Photo: Chris French and Jenny Lee Stern, by Mark Garvin
Do not miss your chance to see Cabaret at Bristol Riverside Theatre through April 16th. This classic musical features songs that fill the audience with joy and sorrow, sometimes simultaneously, as your transported to late 1920s Berlin. You won’t be able to take your eyes off the cast in this production as they bring to life the raucous and show stopping dance numbers that made the hedonistic Kit Kat Club and other underground places in Berlin such an exciting place to be.
Cabaret, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, features powerful Broadway songs such as “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Two Ladies,” “Maybe This Time”, and “Money”. Watch as these numbers and more unfold the true and catastrophic events in the Weimar Republic as the Nazis come to power. As cast member Chris French mentions below, “What Would You Do” infers the audience to look inside themselves and reflect on the choices they make. This is such a well-known musical with so much meaning.
Read our Q&A with French (outstanding as Clifford Bradshaw) to find out more about his theatre career, role in the show and the real life story behind Cabaret. Tickets to the show are available here.
Q: Tell me about your introduction to the arts as a child and what made you decide to pursue a career as a performer.
A: Even as a small child, I was drawn to performing and putting together little singing groups and puppet shows with the other neighborhood kids. I started performing in school and church plays when I was seven years old, and I stuck with it all the way through high school when I attended a performing arts magnet school for theatre. One feature of the magnet was an annual college tour up the East Coast, and the final destination was New York City. It was on this trip that I saw my very first Broadway show, which was, believe it or not, Cabaret! That’s just one of many reasons why this show is so special to me.
Q: Who is “Cliff”- what’s his role in Cabaret, and what’s something you want audiences to know about him before seeing the show?
A: Cabaret is based on the novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, which he wrote based on his own experiences in Berlin in the early 1930s; the character of Cliff Bradshaw is a stand-in for Isherwood himself. Isherwood was an out gay man, and in our production, we aren’t shying away from that fact. It was incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for a gay person to live freely and openly in this time period, and our take on Cliff is that he came to Berlin to do just that: to live life on his own terms. It is heartbreaking to think about the number of men and women who had to hide their true identities in order to even survive during this time, and I deeply admire this character (and Christopher Isherwood) for having the courage and strength to simply live his truth.
Q: What have been some of your favorite recent roles to play?
A: Prior to coming down to Bristol, I’d been appearing in The Play That Goes Wrong in New York, where the show is still playing off-Broadway at New World Stages. Before the onset of the pandemic, I’d also been performing in the national tour of that show. I love TPTGW because it brings such joy to the audience. I can’t tell you how many times I met folks after the show who would share just how much they needed to laugh that hard and how cathartic it was for them, and being able to provide that was a real gift. Telling the story of Cabaret is also a gift, but in a different way. This story is incredibly relevant and moving, and being able to help tell it is very meaningful to me too. They are vastly different plays and roles, but that variety is one of my favorite parts of being an actor!
Q: How did you get involved with Cabaret at Bristol?
A: I had previously auditioned for Bristol Riverside Theatre for a few other productions, and I’d always gotten along well with the creative team. When the audition came up for Cliff in Cabaret, I jumped at the opportunity because I’d always wanted to work with these warm, welcoming, and talented folks.
Q: What’s your favorite song or scene from the show?
A: It’s so hard to choose one favorite scene from the show because it is chock-full of incredible musical theatre classics! Cliff goes on quite the journey over the course of the show, and I think of it like a roller coaster: I get on and strap in at the top of the show, and then I’m on the ride for the entire evening. I’d have to say that my personal favorite scene to perform every night is the scene when Sally and Cliff first meet in her dressing room at the Kit Kat Klub – it’s electric and just so much fun. On the flip side, my favorite musical number to watch from the wings is the title song, “Cabaret,” which Jenny Lee Stern absolutely tears up every night. It’s such a thrill to watch!
Q: You volunteer with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS – what’s your favorite Broadway Flea Market find?
A: I’ve always enjoyed working at the Broadway Flea Market, mainly because of the community. It’s such fun to get to mix and mingle with friends old and new, theatre fans and Broadway greats all in one place. Most of my favorite finds have been vintage playbills, but I do have another favorite memory of volunteering for BC/EFA. At the culmination of their red bucket collection periods each year, BC/EFA produces a variety show of sorts called the Red Bucket Follies. It’s a great show with numbers from most of the participating Broadway, off-Broadway and touring shows that are raising funds for this wonderful organization. My very first year in New York, I got to participate by singing in the opening number. The best part? The opening number was in celebration of Carol Channing’s 90th birthday, and I got to sing back up to “Hello, Dolly!” with Carol Channing herself! It was a real “pinch me!” moment and one I’ll never forget.
Q: Why should people come to see Cabaret at Bristol Riverside Theatre?
A: There’s a reason why Cabaret is one of the best and most-produced pieces of musical theatre of all time. The show artfully tackles many serious issues and compelling themes, but it does so in a way that will catch the audience off guard and maybe even take them by surprise in certain moments. The music is sensational and the dancing is exhilarating, but it’s the heart of the show that really hits home. Cabaret is perhaps more relevant now than ever, and I think it’s summed up beautifully in a song during Act Two called “What Would You Do?” In that song, the character of Fraulein Schneider asks Cliff what he would do if he were in her position, facing down the rise of authoritarianism in Weimar Germany. But in a chilling way, we are actually posing that exact question to the audience: what would you do?