Free theater in Washington Park will offer a bit more than usual this summer.
Instead of just one family-friendly, classic Broadway musical dominating the schedule, the Park Playhouse will present two full-fledged stage productions, beginning with “Cabaret” at 8 tonight at the Lakehouse in Washington Park. After “Cabaret” closes on July 29, “Hairspray” will take over and run for two weeks (Aug. 4-19).
“Ever since I took over as director, I’ve wanted to expand our programming, so now we’re going to do a second evening presentation with a completely different cast in August,” said Owen Smith, now in his third year as producing artistic director at Park Playhouse. “We want to give people a reason to come back and visit us a second time.”
WHERE: The Lakehouse in Washington Park, Albany
WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. today, runs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through July 29
HOW MUCH: $20-$12 for reserved seating; lawn seating is free
MORE INFO: 434-0776 or www.parkplayhouse.com
Edgier than usual
In “Cabaret,” Smith has selected a more adult-oriented show to kick off the season, but he’s convinced that with director Michael LoPorto handling the production and Capital Region favorite Shannon Rafferty in the lead role, “Cabaret” will be a huge success.
“It’s one of those shows that’s a bit darker, a bit edgier than what we might normally do,” he said. “But Michael does a great job of directing, and it’s great to have Shannon, a great local talent who grew up with Park Playhouse II, mixing in with our professional cast from New York. It’s going to be a wonderful show.”
For Gazette theater writer Paul Lamar's review of this show, click here.
“Cabaret” is based on the 1939 novel “Goodbye to Berlin,” by English-American author Christopher Isherwood. Set in Berlin in 1931 as the Nazis were coming to power, Isherwood’s work was turned into a play by John Van Druten in 1951 and called “I Am a Camera.” The story centers on the nightlife at a seedy cafe called the Kit Kat Club, and specifically focuses on the relationship between a 19-year-old English cabaret performer, Sally Bowles, and a young American writer named Clifford Bradshaw.
The song-writing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, whose work also includes “Chicago,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Funny Lady,” brought the story to Broadway in 1966 and turned it into a musical. It earned 10 Tony nominations and won eight of them, including Best Musical. It was made into a Hollywood movie in 1972 and was another smash hit that claimed eight Oscars, including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli for her performance as Sally.
Rafferty, who performed in the Capital Repertory Theatre production of “Man of La Mancha” this past season, didn’t hesitate to audition for the part of Sally, a role that turned Minnelli into an international superstar.
Rafferty will be joined on stage by Jason Jacoby, who performed last year at Park Playhouse as Leo Bloom in “The Producers.” Jacoby will portray the Master of Ceremonies in “Cabaret,” and Jacob A. Ware will play Clifford Bradshaw.
Comparing play, movie
“It’s quite dark, actually, and definitely for more mature audiences than what Park Playhouse usually does,” said Rafferty, a graduate of Averill Park High School, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and Russell Sage College. “But it’s a lot of fun, a very challenging role with amazing choreography, and Michael LoPorto has been awesome as our director.”
Rafferty hasn’t seen a previous production of “Cabaret” and, while she was familiar with the film, the stage version is quite different.
“I actually like the play more than the movie,” she said, “and they are quite different, so I’m not really basing my performance on Liza’s. We did a lot of table work that first week, just reading with each other to discover the script and make some of our own choices. There’s a little bit of Liza there, but not too much.”
Rafferty, who played Anne Frank in the musical “Yours, Anne,” and was Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker,” both at the New York State Theatre Institute, said she’s enjoying the music and dancing that comes with her part.
“I think my favorite song is ‘Cabaret,’ because the character takes such a long journey throughout that song and makes a lot of discoveries,” said Rafferty, who recently directed a production of “A Year With Frog and Toad” at the Theater Institute at Russell Sage.
“My favorite dance number is ‘Don’t Tell Mama,’ but I’m enjoying all of the numbers. This show is an awful lot of fun.”
Smith thinks audiences will feel the same way, and in August he’s hoping they’ll return to Washington Park for “Hairspray.” Bailey Medici, who is heading into her senior year at Shaker High, will play the role of Tracy Turnblad.
“Bailey is the kind of kid who’s a real testament to the talent we have in this area,” said Smith. “I’ve seen ‘Hairspray’ on Broadway four times, and I’d put Bailey up against anybody else I’ve seen do the role.”