Boston Conservatory Students Explore Outsider Stories through 'Cabaret'

March 07, 2019 Katie Gibson

Since its debut on Broadway in 1966, Kander & Ebb’s musical Cabaret has been a wildly popular hit. Set in a nightclub in 1930s Berlin, the musical speaks to its particular time and place through music and dance, but its themes and messages are also relevant for 21st-century audiences.

The performers and patrons of the Kit Kat Klub enjoy the refuge of music and alcohol, creating their own tightly knit community of “outsiders” as the political situation in Germany grows darker and more dangerous. But eventually, the characters find themselves forced to respond to the looming shadow of Hitler’s Nazi Party and its persecution of artists, Jews, LGBTQ+ people, and many other groups. 

Boston Conservatory at Berklee student Aaron Patterson (B.F.A. '21, musical theater) is playing the Emcee in the Conservatory’s sold-out Center Stage production of Cabaret. The Emcee is a key role in any production of Cabaret, especially in this one. Patterson spoke of digging deeply into his character’s backstory, and working with guest director and choreographer Otis Sallid, whose residency at the Conservatory is made possible through the school’s Kunkemueller Artist in Residence program.

“We’ve made him an immigrant to Germany from Cameroon,” Patterson says of his character, who serves as the musical’s driving force, connecting all the other characters inside and outside the Kit Kat Klub, and often commenting on their actions. “He’s created this space (the club) for himself and for so many others who are seen as misfits, who are ‘other’ under this new regime. But as the Nazis tighten their grip, it becomes more and more difficult to ignore what’s happening outside.”

Patterson dove into researching accents and history, building his character’s history and actions into his performance. Of working with Sallid, he says, “You’re always on 100 percent, rehearsing with him. Otis urges you to bring yourself to the work, but he won’t do it for you. There’s a lot of agency there.”

An actor, director, and choreographer with a wealth of experience in film, theater, and television, Sallid’s attention to detail and fresh ideas have given the show’s cast a new perspective on the musical.

“It’s important to us to diversify our shows and the people involved in them,” says Patsy Collins Bandes, interim chair of theater at the Conservatory. “We thought this show would apply to the current political moment and its discourse about people who live their lives by different sets of rules."

The show's set, which takes some inspiration from German expressionist art, keeps the musical grounded in its original time and place. But the themes of persecution, community, and facing difficult decisions in turbulent times are highly relevant to today’s political climate.

Cabaret, which opens on Thursday, March 7, is the spring musical selection for Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s Center Stage series. Under Sallid’s direction, the student cast and crew are creating the world of the Kit Kat Klub, and inviting audiences to join them there.

Catch a sneak peek of the show's costumes, designed by Ryan Park.