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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Monday, August 1, 2011

Pour Me a Glass of Cabaret

Of the many amazing events constantly going up here at WTF, the Cabaret series is certainly one of the most memorable. The Cabaret began at the end of the 1972 Williamstown season as Nikos Psacharopoulos’s last-minute answer to replace a cancelled season-concluding musical, and it has been a staple of the Williamstown season ever since. From the ever-impressive Apprentice Chorus to solos showcasing the Non-Equity company’s pipes to guest appearances from the Equity Company, each one offers its own surprises. This week, we raided the WTF archives to bring you some gems from Cabarets of old. Eric Shethar, one of our Literary Interns, also sat down with Kris Kukul, the Festival’s Cabaret Director, and Kevin Hourigan, the Cabaret Intern, to talk about how those enchanted Cabaret evenings come together…

Flower Sample
Donna McKechnie, who will return to the Williamstown stage in this season’s concluding Mainstage production TEN CENTS A DANCE.
(1977, Photo Credit Jan A. Wein)
Eric Shethar: Kris, how long have you been working on WTF’s Cabaret?
Kris Kukul: 7 years. My first year here I was hired as the musical director of the fellowship musical, but ended up being a last-minute replacement for the Cabaret Director. I’ve been back ever summer since.
ES: And Kevin, as the Cabaret intern what is your role in the process?
Kevin Hourigan: As Kris’s intern, I schedule rehearsals, assist Kris during them. I also do transcriptions and help with arrangements.
ES: Do you guys have any idea the kinds of instruments and voices you have before you get here?
KH: No. Not at all.
ES: So you literally get here and in the first week figure out what you have to work with?
KH: For the first Cabaret, sometimes things were really changing until the day of. As far the apprentices go, we always use an apprentice chorus, but we don’t know what they’re going to be until we see them.
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Myra Taylor, Dwight Schultz, James Naughton, Christopher Reeve, and Stephen Collins in a rousing ensemble number. (1984, Photo Credit Nina Krieger)
KK: I can usually come up with some apprentice numbers before we arrive, but that’s about it.
KH: But we cast musicians from the same Apprentice and Non-Equity pool, so we can’t even work on orchestrations until we get here. And then as far as the solos go, that’s completely dependent on which actors are moving through the Mainstage and Nikos shows at the time. So, we have to wait for them to get here so we can find out what they have up their sleeve or what they’re interested in performing.
ES: And is that the biggest challenge of putting together the Cabaret? Is it that it’s always in flux?
KH: It’s hard because it’s really a week rehearsal process. And it’s funny because for the second and third Cabaret the most work happens in the first half of the week because we have to do all of the orchestrations, make all of the music, and then teach it to everyone so quickly.
KK: That, and coming up with a good opening number.
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Steve Lawson, who is now entering his 40th WTF season, in a solo Cabaret moment. Lawson will be directing his own adaptation of SISTER CARRIE as this year’s final Fridays@3 reading.
(1975, Photo Credit C.G.Wolfson)
ES: And so with the Equity Company, you said that you have to wait until they get here to see what they’re interested in. Do you ask them what they’d like to sing, or do you give them options?
KH: Some of them, like the performers who do more musical theater, actually come with a book of music. But for other people, singing is not necessarily their forte, but it’s something that they want to do, and they know it will be fun.
KK: When Maura Tierney (THREE HOTELS) and Jessica Hecht (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) approached me about doing a duet, I came up with a shortlist of about five songs for them.
ES: Kris, what is one of your favorite Cabaret memories of years past?
KK: Do I only get one?
ES: For you, I’ll give you three.
Flower Sample
A young Christian Slater and Gwyneth Paltrow share a duet years before they became household names.
KK: Greg Hildreth (WTF and Broadway’s BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, Fridays@3’s HOUSE ON STILTS) singing “Broadway Baby” from Follies in a diaper.
ES: Was that your idea or his idea?
KK: His idea.
ES: Any other gems?
KK: Catherine Brunell (WTF’s ANYTHING GOES), who was in the 2002 Broadway production of THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE singing “Gimme Gimme” from the show, and Brooks Ashmanskas (currently in SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER) berating the sound girl who was moving the microphone while he was emceeing and then kissing her.
ES: As a peace offering?
KK: It was a very complicated relationship.

ES: If you had to sing a song, Kevin, what would be your big Cabaret debut?
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Rosemary Harris, Maria Tucci (who wrote and starred in IT'S ONLY A READING as part of this year’s Fridays@3), and Joanne Woodward in one of the annual WTF galas held in New York City.
(1985 credit Bob Marshak)
KH: My big Cabaret debut number would be…this is hard. I don’t know!
ES: You have no idea?
KH: I don’t know. You’ll have to wait for my debut to see!
ES: Kris, your song choice?
KK: Two words: Dolly Parton.
ES: Ok, but what song?
KK: Any of them. Probably her version of “Stairway To Heaven.”
ES: If you could dream-cast and bring anyone to sing any song in the Cabaret, who and what would it be?
KK: Dolly Parton. Singing “Stairway To Heaven.”

And there it is. However generous Kris and Kevin were with their time, neither would give any hints as to this week’s setlist, so you’ll just have to wait until this Thursday through Saturday at 10:30 for the final Cabaret of the 2011 WTF season!

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