Miss America Goes to Berlin

When a show is billed so grandly as to be called a "revolutionary reincarnation" of a classic musical, it's wise to be skeptical. After all, Phoenix is the sort of theater town that every now and then plays host to bus and truck companies of huge Broadway shows like Titanic, which by the time they hit the desert end up featuring a doomed ocean liner capable of getting lost in a bathtub. You never quite know what quality of production is coming through town from looking at the ads.

When Oscar-winning director (for American Beauty) Sam Mendes' mounting of Cabaret played in London and New York, it really was a major reinterpretation of an often performed classic. Placing the audience in tables and chairs located within the 1930s-era Berlin nightclub of the title, the show reportedly succeeded at creating a wonderfully intimate and powerful atmosphere.

No, Frank Lloyd Wright's grand Gammage Auditorium has not had its seating torn out to accommodate this concept, but reviews along the road have this version of Cabaret being something very special. A strong cast and an emphasis on character are just two of this touring company's strong points.

Our Sally Bowles for the evening will be Kate Shindle. She joined the tour straight from a stint as understudy for the co-starring role of Lucy in Broadway's Jekyll and Hyde. Beyond her Great White Way experience, she also has a long list of regional and touring credits in plenty of major musicals. Oh, and by the way, she was also Miss America 1998.

By phone from her hotel at the Orange County engagement of the show, I have to ask whether she ever got the chance to go on during her tenure as Broadway understudy and whether she found it a frustrating experience. "I actually went on six times! And it is a difficult thing. Being a little under the weather this week myself, I'm pretty glad that I just came from an understudy situation. It certainly reminds me of how I hoped to be treated and how I want to treat someone who is in that position for me."

Asked if she found it a hard thing taking on a role so closely associated in people's minds with a timeless movie performance (by Liza Minnelli), her answer is surprising. "Until I got the call to audition, I'd never actually seen the movie or the show. I hardly knew any of the music, so I had a lot to learn for that first audition. Since then I've definitely become aware of the fact that there's a lot of history with this show and there is a lot to live up to as far as the image of Sally. But what you realize is that in your mind it just has to be the first time anyone has ever done it. Then you have to work specifically from the text and not from the performance of someone else.

"The other thing is that from what I know, this production is so dramatically different from any previous versions that it's not terribly hard to make it unique."

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David Gofstein