By Briar Stewart
On the third floor of the Ryerson Theatre School, Erin VanderBurgh stands on top of a chair, shakes her petite figure and flashes a sly flirtatious smile while singing about life in a cabaret.
“Don’t tell Mamma what you say,” she pleads, as she struts in between a chorus line of girls who echo her request.
The 26-year-old actress plays American Sally Boles in the Theatre School’s production of Cabaret.
It’s Boles’ dream of stardom that leads her to work as a chorus girl in Berlin and as the fourth-year acting students parade across an empty dance studio, it’s clearly why director Michael Shamata calls the production a “musical with meat.”
Cabaret, which is based on the character sketches of Christopher Isherwood and John van Druten’s play I am Camera, deals with the political, moral and spiritual dilemmas facing Berlin prior to the Second World War.
Shamata, who previously directed Threepenny Opera at Ryerson in 1999, adapted this Tony-award winning production by using a 25-foot boxcar as the main set.
After speaking with a production assistant, Shamata decided to use the train as a symbol for Nazism and the terror of the Holocaust.
“The image of a train, which was used to take Jews into the concentration camp resonates with history,” explains Shamata who adds that having the actors dance on top of the boxcar accentuates the theme about the choices citizens made during the rise of Nazism.
The play, which is the school’s first full-scale musical in more than three years, has consumed the fourth-year theatre students since November, but don’t expect to hear anyone complaining.
“It’s tiring,” VanderBurgh admits as she takes a break from rehearsal. “But it is what we want to do. I go to class just to get my degree, but I could practice forever.”
At times it must feel that way. For the 21 actors and 20 crew members, practice lasts six to eight hours a day, all on top of their regular classes.
The choreographed production showcases the students acting, music and dance ability and though Shamata admits the amount of singing has posed a challenge, he feels the students have risen to it.
VanderBurgh agrees. “It’s so nice to have the opportunity to have text, music and dance, especially since the school hasn’t done many musicals,” he says.
This will be their seventh production together, and for the fourth-year graduating acting class, it will also be their last.
Expectations are high and with the musical’s period costumes and live band, the school believes it will sell out all 12 performances.