Alums Reflect on "Cabaret" at Brooks

Student actors said "Willkommen" to a rapt audience in Brooks' auditorium last night as they kicked off the first show of our last production in the space, "Cabaret."

Offering this particular show in the auditorium — scheduled for demolition this spring to make way for our new state-of-the-art Center for the Arts — is a fitting way to bid farewell to the historic former barn, built in 1871. The performance marks the third time that "Cabaret" has graced the stage: Former faculty member Michael Walczak directed versions of the provocative number set in 1930s Berlin in 1990 and 2000.


"I love the idea of running a play that has touched the Brooks community through the years — in the 1990s, 2000s and now, featuring students who will graduate in 2020," said Shaunielle McDonald '94, P'19, director of diversity initiatives and director of community service, who acted in the 1990 production. "It's particularly meaningful now, with the building coming down."

So as the community looks forward to the new Center for the Arts — complete with a new theater, ensemble and individual rehearsal spaces for music and visual arts studios — we enlisted a few former "Cabaret" stars to look back on their memories of performing the show in the barn.

The eras may have been different, but the challenge, excitement and pride that these alums felt in performing this remarkable work in front of the school community likely rings just as true for the cast and crew today. Take it from them — without further ado...

Rachel Campbell Uccellini '00:

What role did you play? "Sally Bowles."

What is your favorite memory of performing in "Cabaret" at Brooks?
"Singing 'Mein Herr,' without question. The chair dance choreography was so out of my comfort zone and the vocal range was lower than I'd typically sung before. I loved the challenge. It really felt like an escape."

Why did you want to participate in this musical on campus?
"I fell in love with Alan Cumming as the Emcee in the revival on Broadway. I remember seeing it with Max Whitney '01 and us immediately beginning the obsessive dream to re-enact it. The revival was dark and edgy and a complete departure from all the other shows I'd previously done. I had always been the ingenue. Philia in "Forum," Linda in "Pal Joey;" blonde-haired, light-eyed, with a sweet voice and chasing the lead man. I coveted playing the femme fatale, and better still a raunchy, black-bobbed, English one. Sally Bowles was my dream role."

What do you hope that the current student performers get out of the experience?
"An understanding of what a time of true political, societal unrest can do to a people. There are obviously some ironies in our current landscape, so I hope that they're tapping into that vulnerability, as actors should."

What do you wish that you could tell them about performing "Cabaret" — advice, warning or pep talk?
"Be respectful of the piece — it's a careful dance to not go over the top. Be vulnerable while staying confident. Own your performance and do so without apology. Unwaveringly be true to your role."


Shaunielle McDonald '94, P'19:

What role did you play?
"One of the cabaret girls."

What is your favorite memory of performing in "Cabaret" at Brooks?
"The cabaret number 'Two Ladies.' It's a song about a ménage à trois, basically, and it was nerve wracking. I mean, I was just 13 when I came to Brooks. Then I had to wear fishnets on stage and I was like, 'OK so this is what high school is like.' I was anxious my dad would jump on stage and pull me down!"

Why did you want to participate in this musical on campus?
"I wanted to sing and perform. It was such a great experience too, even just for the relationships we all went on to form. That [1990] cast alone had so much talent. Miriam "Mimi" Drew Long '90 went on to act professionally. Kenny Harmon '93 got involved in musical theater in New York City."

What do you hope that the current student performers get out of the experience?
"Well, my daughter Naimah [McDonald '19] is in the show (playing Max, Herman and is understudy for the Emcee) and I want her, and all of the students, to have a multi-dimensional understanding of what's happening. That's something I appreciate about Rob [Lazar, chair of the arts department and "Cabaret" director] and his direction. The cast and crew really do understand the significance of what they're depicting. It troubles them, but in a way that actually encourages me, because it says that they're thinking about what was wrong in this society that they're depicting and examining it critically from their 21st century perspective. What's incredible about this show is that the message is timeless. From a diversity perspective, it's unfathomable that messages pertaining to Nazi Germany seem germane to what we're experiencing internationally and domestically even now. Some may not see it that way, but it bears consideration — and the students get that."

What do you wish that you could tell them about performing "Cabaret" — advice, warning or pep talk?
"Theater is extraordinary in the way that you're asking someone, live — not in video with a screen between you and the audience — to be another human being; to transform himself or herself. So with that in mind, the advice I'd offer is to give yourself fully to the role and when you're done with it, we're ready to hold you as you put it away."



Iris Rodriguez-Bonet '90:

What role did you play?
"Fraulein Schneider."

What is your favorite memory of performing in "Cabaret" at Brooks?
"The cast! It was a diverse group of enthusiastic kids excited about the opportunity to pull off this amazing story. We knew it was a complex and challenging task and were so very committed to doing it right."

Why did you want to participate in this musical on campus?
"I knew it was a special opportunity. It was a mature musical, an important topic, a challenge for an actor and musically interesting."

Why do you think it's a fitting work to show as Brooks' last number in the barn?
"Because it is an exquisite story, a challenging production, a conversation piece and a production of weight. It is timeless and touched the community 27 years ago — as I am sure it will today."

What do you hope that the current student performers get out of the experience?
"I hope they enjoy the opportunity to stretch themselves as actors and musicians. I hope that the characters stay with them for a long time. There is so much to learn from them all."

What do you wish that you could tell them about performing "Cabaret" — advice, warning or pep talk?
"Stay present. It goes by so fast, and then it's gone. Embrace your role, learn from the characters and enjoy your fellow cast members. It is truly a magical experience."

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