“We presented three options, that were either historical or based on literature: ‘Jekyll & Hyde,’ ‘Pippin’ and ‘Cabaret,'” Zizolfo says.
“He took some time to think about it and he chose ‘Cabaret’ for its historical content – and that’s where we’re putting the theme of the show, its historical content.”
Still, shows come with their own reputations, as David Muto learned when he went home and told his mother he’d been cast as the Emcee, the role Joel Grey played in the 1972 film.
“She didn’t go ‘You mean the one with Nazis?'” Muto recalls. “She said ‘Oh, you mean the one with all the sex?'”
Yes, the sexuality is still there, but it is toned down, and the historical nature of the piece is played up.
But it’s still a risky choice, says Kiah Thomas, who plays Helga, one of the Kit Kat girls. “No high school would ever think of doing ‘Cabaret,’ so it took a lot of guts to even bring it to the principal’s attention to say we want to do ‘Cabaret’ and here are some other options – but our principal was, like, ‘Fine, go ahead and do ‘Cabaret.'”
Madeline Rende plays Sally Bowles, the character made famous by Liza Minnelli.
“I believe that the whole topic of World War II – with the Germans taking over not only Jewish people, but people who weren’t what they wanted as the perfect race – is a touchy subject for everyone in general. It’s sensitive because it was such a bad time in history for a lot of people.
“To be producing it in high school, I think we can relate to it because we’ve learned about it, some of us are studying it right now. And I think the audience will relate to it once we put our emotions and our whole selves into it.”
A lot happens to Sally, an English prostitute who works at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, an establishment populated by prostitutes, homosexuals and the outcasts of 1929 Berlin. Overseeing it all is the Emcee, a character of menace, humor and raw sexual energy.
“It isn’t just World War II we deal with,” says Diego Molano, who plays Cliff, Sally’s love interest. “We deal with abortion, homosexuality, and so many other elements people might see as taboo. That’s what makes this show so unique among other shows that deal with this time period.”
Danielle Grandazzo plays Fraulein Kost. She says her favorite moment in the show is when Sally sings the title song, with its lyric:
“Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb
Isn’t that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum,
And I love a Cabaret!”
“That’s the turning point in the show, when she decides what she’s going to do, that the cabaret is her place and that’s where her life takes place.”
Grandazzo concedes that Port Chester is a fairly conservative town, one where taboo subjects aren’t often raised.
“I feel it’s going to bring a lot of attention to our school and it gives us a more mature look,” she says. “If you go to other districts and they’re doing ‘The Wizard of Oz’ or ‘Bye Bye, Birdie,’ I feel it’s going to show our school is able to take on this risk.”
Taylor Quinn, who plays Frenchy, likes that the show is energetic and fun yet there’s a depressing historical moment tied to it. “I think people will talk about it, but it will be good talk,” she adds. “Like they’ll say ‘I can’t believe Port Chester did this show’ and ‘I can’t wait to see next year’s show.'”
Muto says the Emcee is really a stand-in for a historical character.
“He’s supposed to be like Hitler, but a dancey, flashy kind of Hitler. Getting into the head of a character who I don’t consider a real person – he’s like an enigma, a gay enigma – is not really all that difficult. But I don’t walk around jiving my hips all over the place, so I had to go home and think about how he moves.”
“I don’t consider myself a shy person, so being up in people’s faces wasn’t too hard, but being him was tough because I’m not supposed to be me. I want them to laugh at him, not at me, so I need to be the Emcee all the way.”
“All the way” means becoming increasingly sinister.
“He keeps getting more evil and more evil and more evil,” Muto says. “In ‘I Don’t Care Much,’ the song that wasn’t in the original but was added to the revival – it’s right before ‘Cabaret,’ – he dances around and Cliff and Sally are frozen and he kills them in a way.
“It’s what people have been waiting for. They know he’s a Nazi, they know he’s crazy, he’s creepy he’s trying to get to us, but now he’s actually killing people,” Muto says.
But Zizolfo has his Emcee singing the song with a big smile and pouring on the charm – playing against his actions. That makes the song even more chilling, Muto says.
The subject matter certainly hasn’t been tackled by this high school theater program before, but “Cabaret” is a milestone in another way, says director Zizolfo.
“The shows that are typically done here are not dance shows, because our program is small, maybe 40 students.”
But in the course of rehearsals, choreographer Robert Cobelli-Zizolfo has turned them into dancers.
“They are doing turns, they are doing steps, they are dancing,” he says.
“This is an experience that they’ve never had, when it comes to dance, and they’ll remember it.”
Photo by Matthew Brown/The Journal News: David Muto, who plays the Emcee, rehearses with the cast of Port Chester High School’s production of “Cabaret.” Students rehearsal for the Port Chester High School production.
Watch video interviews with David Muto, who plays the Emcee, and Madeline Rende, who plays Sally Bowles, at www. lohud.com/ localtheater.
Where: Port Chester High School, 1 Tamarack Road, Port Chester.
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Tickets: $10; $8 for students and seniors.
With: David Muto, Brittany Abel, Rocio De La Roca, Alyssa Pillinger, Taylor Quinn, Jennifer Sarmiento, Amanda Nadler, Kiah Thomas, Theodore Shaeffer, Daniel Gessner, Diego Molano, Elinor Reina, Mario Rodriguez, Danielle Grandazzo, Madeline Rende, Sergio Marroquin, Michael Hall, Alex Dipaola, Luke Glockenberg, Gilberto Hernandez, Katie Cruz-Griffith, Kuany Zanetti, Eunice Vigo, Raul Otono, Harrison Batista, Zachary Dore-Flynn, Karina Barra, Jesse Ceja, Grace Bunnell, Erin Dooley, Jessica Westerman.