Written by Kander and Ebb, the musical Cabaret first opened on Broadway in 1966 and was directed by Harold Prince. Amongst the cast of the original Broadway production was Jack Gilford in the role of Herr Schultz. Following the Broadway success of Cabaret, the show toured throughout the US. It was during this touring production that John O’May first saw Cabaret. He is now performing in the latest Australian production of this classic musical.
“I remember back in the 60s I saw a production of Cabaret – the first national touring production in Washington DC and right after that I met Jack Gilford, who originated this role on Broadway. It was a pleasure and an honour to spend New Year’s Eve with him actually, standing around a piano singing these songs! It was really wonderful. I thought, ‘When I get to a certain age, I want to play that role – and it happened!’ So I’m very happy,” said O’May.
O’May can still clearly recall that very first production of Cabaret.
“It was the first national road tour, so it was a copy of Hal Prince’s original Broadway show. It was pretty much a copy of what was happening on Broadway,” commented O’May.
John O’May explained this latest production of Cabaret is very different to that original version.
“It’s unbelievably different! Really quite different! That’s the fun part and the important part of it – they have made it their own – WE have made it our own,” O’May said, adding there are some very unique directorial decisions in this latest production.
He is aware that most people are probably more familiar with the 1972 film version of Cabaret, starring Liza Minelli.
“It’s certainly not the film – that’s how most people are familiar with it. They think they are coming to see a stage version of the film and it’s not. If you talk to Chelsea (Gibb) you’ll know she’s not doing Liz Minelli … the characters names are different. My character isn’t even in the film, but he’s a beautiful, important part in the play,” explained O’May.
John O’May first became aware Cabaret was to be produced professionally in Australia again when he saw a Facebook post announcing just three cast: Paul Capsis, Kate Fitzpatrick and Debora Krizak, and director Nicholas Christo. O’May immediately contacted Christo and asked if the role of Herr Schultz had already been cast. Needless to say, he got the part!
O’May auditioned for the role of Herr Schultz for the 2002 production of Cabaret (which starred Tina Arena as Sally Bowles in the Sydney season and Lisa McCune in Melbourne), but was told he was too young.
“I probably wasn’t too young, but I’m glad they said that!” he laughed.
The official opening night performance for Cabaret at the Hayes Theatre is this week, but according to John O’May, opening night is when you have an audience. The preview performances have been incredibly well received by audiences.
“As soon as an audience appears, that’s opening night to me. It went unbelievably well – I was so knocked out by it,” said O’May.
He attributes the success of this production to the talented cast, a great script and the concept pulled together by the creative team of Nicholas Christo (Director), Kelley Abbey (Choreographer) and Lindsay Partridge (Musical Director).
O’May believes Cabaret is a musical that remains relevant today. He referred to the speech given by Meryl Streep at the recent Golden Globe awards and the vilification of people because they are artists.
“We are a different breed of people. We are not ordinary people. We think differently – and I’m not saying we’re better, we’re not. It’s not an elitist thing. It’s just different,” O’May reflected, explaining that artists are vilified for being different. “That’s a frightening prospect.”
O’May explained that not tolerating the vilification of others who are different is what Cabaret is all about to him.
“What happened in the 1930s in Germany, and I’m not comparing anybody or anything nowadays to the rise of Hitler, but you can see the kind of similarities in vilifying. People are being put down for being who they are, simply because they are,” he commented, then quickly added, “Enough politics – but it is about politics and I think that’s why this is just as important … probably more important now, than in the 1960s.”
Ultimately though, O’May says Cabaret is all about the entertainment, because, to quote the song, ‘Life is a cabaret, old chum! Come to the cabaret!’
Cabaret is currently playing at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney and will then tour. Limited tickets remain for the Sydney season and are selling fast for Melbourne.