Cabaret is back on Broadway in a bold, no-holds-barred production that won this year's Tony Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical, and the Drama Desk Award as well. Directed by Sam Mendes for the Roundabout Theatre, this is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill rehash. It takes place in the old Henry Miller's Theatre (on 43rd Street near Times Square), which has been renamed the Kit Kat Klub and redesigned as the eponymous club that is the setting for many of the musical numbers in the show. The cohabitation of a Broadway musical and an after-hours nightclub (see "Virtual cabaret," page 62) carries the environmental concept created by set designer Robert Brill and lighting designers Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari (their lighting also received Drama Desk and Tony Award nominations) into the real-world setting of a club-within-a-club.
In 1993, Mendes staged a revival of Cabaret, first produced in 1966, at the Donmar Warehouse in London. The audience sat at cabaret tables to suggest the informal environment of the story's Kit Kat Klub. Based on that production, the New York revival is set in a shabby theatre which had been used as a nightclub in recent years and refashioned by Brill as the Kit Kat Klub itself: a run-down, third-rate club in an unfashionable section of Berlin on the eve of the Second World War. Cabaret tables with fringed red shades on tiny lamps help set the mood for a raunchy romp before the horrors of wartime Germany bring a sudden chill to the evening.
Natasha Richardson's glorious Sally Bowles, an English singer vamping it up in Berlin, and Alan Cumming's delightfully naughty emcee lead the cast at the Kit Kat Klub. To create an appropriately seedy environment for their antics, the lighting designers used the club conceit as a subtext. "We created a scenario about what the club environment was and who would have created it," says Eisenhauer. "We wondered what kind of lights they might have had at the time. They would have been German and not cream-of-the-crop. This was a second-rate, patched-together environment."
With this as a premise, the light plot was hung as it might have been found in such a poorly maintained club, where early Hollywood lighting and military sources might have been used. "Nothing is hung symmetrically and it looks as if nothing was planned," says Baldassari. "It's as if things were only replaced if burnt out, so all the color is slightly wrong." The desired look is "not arty," as Eisenhauer points out, but has "a handmade or homemade quality. This is not a sophisticated system."
Working in tandem with Mendes, the lighting designers played off his seedy interpretation of the Kit Kat Klub. "You rarely find a director who has such a vision," reflects Eisenhauer. "We provided the tools, the palette, and the raw materials for him to work with." The lighting rig is intentionally small, with the designers opting for versatility. The use of Wybron Coloram scrollers (27 on ETC Source Fours, seven on PAR-64s, four on Arri incandescent 5kW fresnels, and one on an Arri 4kW fresnel) helped limit the size of the rig, as did the use of Vari*Lite(R) automated luminaires, which, of course, did not exist during the time period the musical covers.
"We used the Vari*Lites for their arc lamps, which look like searchlights," says Eisenhauer. "The audience does not see the motion so they do fit in. They give the exact blend of being modern and what was available at that time, so they are not outside of the show's language." A total of 11 VL5Arc(TM) wash luminaires and nine VL6(TM) spot luminaires are used. Trapeze-like bars lower the trim height of the VL6s, and spill rings with concentric circles supplied by City Theatrical add a period look to the luminaires.
City Theatrical also supplied a range of accessories (including top hats, half top hats, and drop-in irises) for the PAR-64s and Source Fours. The Vari*Lites are controlled by an Artisan(R) console, while an ETC Obsession controls the conventional fixtures, which were supplied by Bash Lighting Services.
A large mirror ball was part of the theatre's found decor, so the designers had it cleaned and automated, and surrounded it with what they call podunwarfersteins, or three "homemade" pods. "We wanted to give the mirror ball an organic relationship to the architecture of the space," explains Eisenhauer. "They would not have had truss back then so we used pipe to make homemade clusters." Each of the three pods is the same, including VL6s, with Source Fours hung to act like a front lighting system for a musical. There are also Source Four specials for the doors onstage and for the catwalk in front of the proscenium, which is an iron pipe structure with a floor. "We wanted the look of a period bridge, like the old European opera house positions," says Eisenhauer.
Altman 6" fresnels and 1kW PAR-64s in the pods are used to uplight the ceiling and a few PARs are pointed directly at the mirror ball which is used to help pull the audience into the environment in certain scenes. "We used a pod rather than a linear piece of truss as a specific design decision for this environment," says Eisenhauer. "It is slightly cosmic; the mirror ball is like the sun and the pods are like satellites. We couldn't use a rig or modern trussing, and asked ourselves what they would have done." Speakers directed at the balcony hang as part of these pod-like clusters.
The use of color scrollers also allowed the designers to make instant choices. "They added flexibility and variety so the lighting was able to stay interesting all evening," says Eisenhauer. "We didn't repeat the same cues. There is a constant play of color that the audience isn't aware of." The audience might also not notice that the small lights on the tables in the theatre go on each time the action moves back to the Kit Kat Klub stage. "This helped pull the audience right into the club environment," says Baldassari.
One of the most visually striking scenes in Cabaret takes place at the Kit Kat Klub when Sally Bowles returns and finds Max, the owner of the club, standing in the doorway. "There is a certain dissolving of the environment so you can't see the edge of the space. The images are floating against total darkness," Eisenhauer points out. A shadowy, film-noir look gives the scene an eerie disembodied quality with strong shafts of light cutting through a smoky stage. The haze comes from an MDG Atmosphere fogger.
The idea here is to reveal the Kit Kat Klub in a way it hasn't been seen before. "This is the club at its worklight stage, not its performance state. You see an empty club, and there is just haphazard light hitting the back wall and pieces of the set," says Eisenhauer. She used a custom-made shadow projector with a 2kW quartz lamp (also used during the "Two Ladies" shadow-play sequence) to create this effect. "This is something that was developed by Jules Fisher and we've used it many times before," she explains. "I was able to get a beam coming out of the door at exactly the right angle to hit Max and Sally, and make a long shot work. She passes from patch of light to patch of light as if he were blocking the light coming from the doorway."
Followspots are used as they might have been used in a place like the Kit Kat Klub, with two Pani 1.2kW HMI followspots adding the right European touch (there is also one Lycian 1273 Starklite II followspot). The HMI light is color corrected to a cold military look. "We wanted the followspots to suggest the context of the piece but not our own skill," says Eisenhauer, who used a full-body followspot rather than the smaller-size beam she would normally use on such a small stage. "I felt this was the right thing to do," she says. "It allows the light to spill over and make a disembodied composition with the chorus standing next to the stars. The light cuts through the neighboring part of the image. This also involves the followspot operator and makes it more interesting for him."
The color palette for Cabaret also has a certain crudeness to it, with harsh dichroic greens and purples contrasting with warmer incandescent tones. "The interiors of the rooming house are drab while the club has more color," Eisenhauer points out. "The color in the lighting took on the nature of the scene. It's the difference between the natural expression of the interiors and the use of a cold spotlight on a body."
"The lighting is not over-cued or too jazzy, not too fancy or too slick," she says. At the end of the second act, low-voltage Svoboda battens fill the space with light as the set becomes a stark white wall and the characters are but silhouettes seen in rays of backlight, an image which captures the nightmarish quality of Nazi Germany.
"The essence of what creates the design is hard to peg," says Eisenhauer. "It's not just a stage extended into the house with different areas to light in front of the proscenium. We tried to create something and then distort it slightly. It's all somewhat abstract, so we weren't sure the whole thing would connect. But it all just unfolded--one look evolved from another as if we entered the club for the first time each time."
Having a Broadway musical and an after-hours club share the same space is uneasy, especially for the theatrical half of the couple. But share they do, and each night after the final curtain call for Cabaret, much of the set and lighting is cleared to make way as the late night incarnation of the Kit Kat Klub takes over. "This is a hostile environment for a Broadway musical. There may be as many as 2,000 people slam-dancing on the stage," says production electrician Josh Weitzman, who serves as the union department head and master technician for the Roundabout at the Kit Kat Klub. Peggy Eisenhauer credits Weitzman with "saving the day" as far as the cohabitation is concerned.
In plotting the show, Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari left clear spots (out of the audience sightlines) for hanging the disco lighting equipment that is used by the club. "We didn't want the Cabaret audience to be staring at Cyberlights(R), even if they were turned off," says Weitzman. Dance towers which "cage" and support lights on the stage are moved backstage, then lifted up by Columbus McKinnon Lodestar chain motors into the fly space to clear the area for access to a bar. Some of the lighting, such as the chaser lights built into the scenery and table lights, are switched to another console so they can be used for both the show and the club. Special disconnects were put in to turn off the majority of the show's lighting system, although both systems share the same 2.4kW ETC Sensor dimmers. These are located in a loft stage left where the hemp rail used to be located.
The footlights (decorative clamshells fitted with both regular light bulbs and birdies which do the real lighting) are removed as well, and replaced with plugs to close the holes in the stage. Microphones and musical instruments go onto a platform that rolls out of sight upstage behind a vacuformed brick wall that flies in to hide the platform and create the back wall for the club. Stair units and handrails are installed around the stage and most of the cabaret tables are cleared away.
Before each show, the Cabaret crew has a one-hour changeover which includes the refocus, then a one-hour dimmer check. This doubles the pre-show time that Cabaret would have if it had a space of its own. After the show another strike and setup are required. "There is one hour of really hard work," says Mateo Difontaine, technical director for the Kit Kat Klub. "We open our doors at around 11:00pm, depending on how the strike goes." No reason to hurry, as the club stays open until five or six o'clock in the morning, with a weekly lineup of revues such as the "Juicy Danger Show," various bands, and dancing.
The lighting rig for the Kit Kat Klub includes intelligent lighting from High End Systems, including 10 Intellabeams(R), four Cyberlights, six Emulators(R), two Trackspots(R), and four Dataflash(R) AF1000 xenon strobes, as well as Lightwave Research controllers. It also includes a battery of PAR cans controlled by DMX from the Cabaret lighting system, which gives the Kit Kat Klub access to the chaser. Richie Trix handles the programming and maintenance of the club's lighting equipment.
Might Sally Bowles and her virtual Kit Kat Klub pull up stakes and leave the real Kit Kat Klub to its own devices? Nobody has confirmed anything yet--but can a mere 500 seats sustain this award-winning revival?
LIGHTING DESIGNERS Peggy Eisenhauer, Mike Baldassari
ASSOCIATE LIGHTING DESIGNER David Lander
PRODUCTION ELECTRICIAN Josh Weitzman
VARI*LITE PROGRAMMER Richie Tyndall
RIGGER Jamie Leonard, Stageright Inc.
DRAFTING Eric Chenault
CONVENTIONAL LIGHTING SUPPLIER Bash Lighting Services
EQUIPMENT LIST (11) Vari*Lite VL5Arcs (9) Vari*Lite VL6 spot luminaires (6) ETC Source Four 10-degree ellipsoidals (80) ETC Source Four 19-degree ellipsoidals (82) ETC Source Four 26-degree ellipsoidals (20) ETC Source Four 36-degree ellipsoidals (2) ETC Source Four 50-degree ellipsoidals (14) 1kW VNSP PAR-64s (16) 1kW NSP PAR-64s (12) 1kW MFL PAR-64s (2) 1kW WFL PAR-64s (4) sets series-wired 28V/600W PAR-64 ACLs (4) 500W NSP PAR-56s (6) Thomas 250W PAR-16s (24) Altman 750W 6" fresnels (4) Arri 5kW 12" fresnels (1) Arri Daylight 4000 HMI 21" 4kW fresnel (1) antique decorative giant fresnel (6) Lighting & Electronics 75W EYC Mini-Strips (2) 500W NSP PAR-56 striplights (9) Svoboda low-voltage batten sections (8) custom PAR-64 striplights (1) custom 2kW shadow projector (1) Lycian 1273 Starklite II followspot (2) Pani 1.2kW HMI followspots (1) Reel EFX DF-50 hazer (1) MDG Atmosphere haze generator (28) Wybron Coloram IIs for ETC Source Fours (8) Wybron Coloram IIs for PAR-64s (3) Wybron Coloram IIs for 5kW fresnels (44) City Theatrical top hats for ETC Source Fours (97) City Theatrical half top hats for ETC Source Fours (15) City Theatrical drop-in irises for ETC Source Fours (24) City Theatrical top hats for PAR-64s (12) City Theatrical half top hats for PAR-64s (6) City Theatrical #1300 PAR can support arms (1) City Theatrical custom 5kW top hat with spill rings and hexel louver (1) ETC Obsession (1) Vari*Lite Artisan with VLQ software (288) ETC Sensor 2.4kW dimmers (8) 7' sections single wide dance tower trussing (40') 1'x1' mini-beam box truss (3) custom podunwarfersteins (pods)