As long as Tina Davis could recall, she was belting high notes, perfecting jazz squares and pas de bourrees and exchanging impassioned dialogue on stage. But the spotlight on her stage dimmed when she started a family and stopped performing.
“Usually in theater, you age out of roles,” Davis said. “I missed out on my prime years to play a lot of those characters I really wanted to play because I was raising my family.”
But now, the 53-year-old Cleveland native is stepping into the role of the young, decadent Berlin nightclub performer Sally Bowles in BOOM! Theater’s first ever production of Cabaret. The new Akron-based theater company has a cast and artistic team of Northeast Ohioans over the age of 50.
“It’s like a do-over,” said Davis, who works as a reimbursement business advisor for Botox Therapeutics by day. “The fact that you can embody these characters at any age is so refreshing.”
The Akron Civic incubates several theater groups, including high school productions and Millennial Theater Project’s shows for younger adults. Launching a theater company for older Akronites seems like the next logical step, says Val Renner, Akron Civic’s associate director.
“We did a lot of research on a lot of older theater groups where the age range is 50 and up, and there’s not too many that exist,” Renner said. “We thought, ‘Why not?’ It’s an underserved population.”
Of the more than 25 theater companies in Summit County, BOOM! is the first to work with the age demographic of 50 and up. Cabaret features performers from ages 52 to 73. The creative team, including director, music director and choreographer, are also over 50.
“There are so many talented people in this area over 50 who can lend their talent and experience to these productions,” Davis said. “I think this theater group will grow and be really inclusive, not just for age, but for different experience levels and for people to be able to find this new expression of their talents and who they are.”
Cabaret follows young American writer Cliff Bradshaw on a journey to Berlin in the years following World War I during the Weimar Republic period, which leads him to the seedy, downtrodden Kit Klub Klub, where he meets the cabaret’s shining star, Sally Bowles. Bowles, a Bohemian burlesque dancer who survives off her charm and beauty, couldn’t be more different than Bradshaw, a level-headed, practical man who struggles with his sexuality and artistic identity. Nevertheless, the two spark a friendship and romantic relationship, ultimately putting them at odds in the era leading to the Third Reich.
Cabaret critiques apathy and denial in the face of totalitarianism. Even as the backdrop of the Nazi uprising comes increasingly to the forefront of the show, most of the characters are either in denial or too self-involved to intervene with the bigotry happening right before them.
“We selected Cabaret because it is really a sign of the times,” Renner said. “There are so many people in the dark and so many people who feel persecuted in this country.”
The cast delivers a delightful take on show, with standout performances from Davis and Phil Formes, who plays the Emcee. The master of ceremonies beckons the audience into the nightclub with flamboyance and showmanship but also lurks omnipresent in some of the darker scenes, indicating danger to come. Formes guides the audienceacross the story through song, his vibrato controlled and effortless, delivering some of the most lighthearted, entertaining moments in the show to some of the most chilling moments in the next breath.
Many know Cabaret from the 1972 film, which featured Liza Minnelli’s Academy Award-winning breakout performance. The film, which took creative liberties from the original musical, featured songs that were later added to the stage production. Davis, who said Bowles was on her “bucket list” for characters she wanted to play, has not before seen the movie or a live production.
“It’s good because I’m not going in with any preconceived notions,” Davis said. “There’s not a sense of imitation; it’s my personal study of her.”
Davis’s Bowles commands the room, bringing the spotlight to herself in each scene. She overacts as she should, playing a character who herself is playing a character, but breaks with vulnerability when it counts. Davis’s performance of the titular song Cabaret in Act II is stirring and heartbreaking.
“She could put any 27-year-old on the floor,” Renner said Davis. “She’s a dynamite. I just want people to realize that you’re never too old to blossom.”
BOOM!’s production takes place on the Knight Stage, a newly open blackbox theater attached to the Akron Civic. The Knight Stage seats roughly 200 and provides an intimate setting between performers and audiences.
Unlike productions that run through the 2,500-seat Civic, the Knight Stage allows for minimal set production, but what it lacks in major production value, the cast makes up for in flair and memorable performances.
“Talent is talent,” Davis said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”
Cabaret runs at the Knight Stage on Fridays and Saturdays from Sept. 24 to Oct. 9. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Civic’s box office.
Photos provided by BOOM! Theater.
Abbey Marshall is the economic development reporter for The Devil Strip via Report for America and a musical theater aficionado in her free time. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any stage or movie musical, except Cats (2019).
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