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Willkommen to the Oakville Centre's Cabaret

Claire Sears / Burloak Theatre Group
Claire Sears / Burloak Theatre Group

"In here, life is beautiful! "

So says the mysterious Emcee in one of music theatre's most iconic opening numbers. Those words will enchant audiences at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts this week as the curtain rises on Burloak Theatre Group's (BOTG) new blockbuster production of Cabaret.

Featuring the music of Broadway composers Kander and Ebb, including songs like "Maybe This Time", "Mein Herr" and the haunting "Tomorrow Belongs to Me", the show tells the story of an American writer in 1930s Berlin, Germany looking for inspiration, love, and purpose with the looming threat of a new war about to start.

Much of the show's allure, however, comes from the lavish setting of Berlin's once-real Kit Kat Klub, an equally elegant and edgy night club where a large amount of the story takes place. Now the club has come to life though an enormous set, dazzling costumes, and a huge 31 person acting company.

It's been almost 60 years since the show's original New York premiere, and thanks to multiple show-stopping revivals and the beloved film starring Liza Minelli, the musical drama has retained its popularity today.

Cabaret was last presented in Oakville by West End Studio Theatre in 2004 - almost two decades ago. The BOTG production team is energized and believes the musical is resonant now in both exciting and frightening new ways.

"This show is about how to do the right thing, and looks at why people blindly can make bad choices," says director Malakai Vieira.

"Now more than ever now, we are easily distracted but what's shiny and new. It's easy to avoid the news and ignore what's going on in the world, thinking it won't affect us. But in reality, that indifference might be too late once the conflict is right in front of you."

Burloak Theatre Group
Burloak Theatre Group

Vieira has performed with Burloak before, last seen in 2018's Little Shop of Horrors. As a director, his last two projects have been with Brampton Music Theatre, including his own Little Shop and Disney's Newsies.

But for years Cabaret has been a bucket-list project for Malakai, and he says it's "surreal and amazing" seeing his work finally on stage, mixing great music and style with deep social commentary.

"I wanted to give space to these beautiful characters on stage," he continues, "I want the audience to leave asking themselves the same question Fraulein Schneider sings: What would you do?"

Making the Kit Kat Klub come to life

Turning the Oakville Centre into the famous (or infamous?) Kit Kat Klub was no easy task. Not only is it among the most recognizable and evocative sets in the golden age of music theatre, but it's also among the most intricate.

In addition to direction, Vieira worked on a large part of the set and scenic design, and he shared with Oakville News some of the challenges making it both visually appealing and functional for the story.

"We have to move between scenes in and out of the club extremely fast," says Vieira. "But there's lots of large furniture pieces and all of it has to be functional."

The "Klub" itself has seating for 20 people, and six rolling tables that include working lamps and vintage telephones - and that's just one of the three anchor sets in the production.

Making the world of both the club and Berlin come to life was part of what producers Beth Poad and Corinne Barnard were hoping to recreate on the Oakville Centre stage. Poad, in fact, says that "Cabaret is one of the most technically complicated shows Burloak has ever done."

To make Cabaret come to life every night, it requires a staggering 70 person cast, crew and orchestra - almost all of whom are volunteers. And that's just the start; the show also features:

  • 130 costumes worn by the cast
  • Nearly 200 lighting instruments
  • 400 unique props
  • Hundreds of hours in set construction and painting

And none of the above includes the hundreds of hours in rehearsal for the actors and musicians.

"This is the most professional community theatre show anyone will see in a long time," says Barnard. "It’s an amazing show to showcase BOTG's vocal and dance talent, and the technical talents too."

Devin Dos Santos as the Emcee in BOTG
Devin Dos Santos as the Emcee in BOTG's "Cabaret" | Burloak Theatre Group
Redefining famous roles

Among the thrilling talents of the onstage cast, Devin Dos Santos leads the company as the Emcee - a role made universally famous in past productions by actors like Joel Grey and Alan Cumming.

"There's definitely a little bit of pressure with this part," says Dos Santos backstage during the dress rehearsal. "The pressure is to put your own stamp on it and not regurgitate what audiences may have already have seen."

"So for me, it's all about surprising people and giving them unexpected. We're going to surprise people because we’ve made something you haven't seen before."

Unexpected would be an understatement for the manic energy, commitment, and versatility Dos Santos brings to the stage throughout the night - including the 12 musical numbers he performs over the course of the play.

Even more impressive is that this isn't his first appearance in the part: Dos Santos played the role in Guelph as a university student nearly ten years ago.

"It’s interesting to see how I’ve grown as a performer," he says. "You can’t help but look back and compare to where I was at a personal point back then. But now looking in the mirror it's so easy getting into character, especially thanks to the amazing costume and makeup team. Once I'm dressed it's a blur after that - I get into a completely different headspace."

Perhaps the other equally famous part comes from nightclub singer Sally Bowles, played in this production by the multi-talented Sarah-May Townsend. She last appeared in the company of BOTG's Cinderella Potter in December 2022, but this is her first time stepping into the spotlight as the star.

"This show is greatly significant to me," says Townsend, "and Sally has always been one of my bucket list roles."

"I first saw and fell in love with the story of Cabaret back in post-secondary school. I fell in love with every detail: the characters, thier quirks, how they express themselves, and most importantly, their stories."

José Andrés Bordas and Sarah-May Townsend in BOTG
José Andrés Bordas and Sarah-May Townsend in BOTG's "Cabaret". | Burloak Theatre Group

What drew her into the story is what she describes as the play's insights to "the gruelling and difficult truths of WWII. They're explored with such honesty and respect. There's the divide and struggle for survival, but also the hunger for Sally wanting a larger than life place in society."

"We all know and love Sally Bowles as this big, bright, bold, always "on" type of person," Townsend describes. "I wanted to figure her out for myself in order to create a more relatable character. Finding these hard but truthful moments within her story has made it emotionally challenging each night, but the artistic payoff is far more rewarding."

The reward? When the audience hears her smashing renditions of classic songs like "Don't Tell Mama" and the titular "Cabaret", you'll see and hear that payoff raise the Oakville Centre roof.

Best of all, Townsend is a local talent. Not only is she is graduate of Toronto's Academy of Acting for Film & Television but also of Oakville's Sheridan College. She's one of several members of the cast and crew who is either a graduate of or current student in Sheridan's many lauded live theatre programs (including dazzling choreography from second-year Bachelors of Music Theatre Program student Madison Arnason.)

Spectacle at the local theatre

Truly, what BOTG has created is a lavish production rarely seen on community theatre stages today - it's professional talent working at the local level to bring Oakville something really special.

Vieira explains, "We try to do in three months with a limited budget what professional companies do with millions and years on their side - and the final result is just as breathtaking. I'm so grateful for this amazing company as they all rose to the occasion to bring our vision to life."

"We've amassed such and amazing cast and crew," says Dos Santos, and Poad adds, "The audience will be blown away."

One additional part that makes this production special unique will be an immersive pre-show with the audience each night, beginning 30 minutes prior to the start time. Actors will be mingling in the theatre's lobby and in the seats before the show, and a lucky few will even get to go on stage.

(BOTG tells Oakville News a sticker system, with arriving patrons choosing either green or red stickers to wear for the night, will help differentiate who in the audience wants to be included and who simply wants to enjoy from a distance.)

Part of the intrigue too comes from knowing while many locals are familiar with Cabaret, there will also be audience members unaware of the plot's surprises coming to see the show for their first time.

Some parts of the show remain timeless, as does the interest for audiences and the performers. One member of this 2023 ensemble, for example, told Oakville News she's excited to put on the show because both her mother and aunt were the choreographers for the 2004 WEST/Oakville Centre production. More exciting, her family will be in the audience later this week, re-visiting the show for their first time since performing in it themselves.

Burloak Theatre Group
Burloak Theatre Group

No matter if it's your first time or tenth, the BOTG artists are ready to "willkommen" you to the Oakville Centre for a jaw-dropping night of entertainment.

Kander and Ebb's Cabaret

Now playing at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts until April 23, 2023.

Tickets are available online here.

Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Book by Joe Masteroff.

Directed by Malakai Vieira.

Choreography by Madison Arnason. Musical Direction by Jenny Peace.

Starring Devin Dos Santos, Sarah-May Townsend, José Andrés Bordas, Karyn Monk, Michael C. Newsome, Francine Jiménez and Jeff Gordon.

Audiences should be advised the show is recommended for those aged 14 and up, as it contains both mature language and subject matter.

Editor's note: while this story is not sponsored by Burloak Theatre Group or the Oakville Centre, the author of this story is affiliated with the show and contributed to the production on a volunteer basis.


Tyler Collins

About the Author: Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is the editor for Oakville News. Originally from Campbellton, New Brunswick, he's lived in Oakville more than 20 years. Tyler is a proud Sheridan College graduate of both Journalism and Performing Arts.
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