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Virginia Theatre Festival explores modern issues with a story set nearly 100 years ago

The story of Cabaret is set in 1929 Berlin, a time of relative prosperity, cultural and social exploration and political unrest.

“The themes still resonate with the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism not only in our country but all over the world. It’s a warning in that way.”

Set in Berlin as the Nazis came to power, Cabaret explores social and political issues at play today.
Virginia Theatre Festival
Set in Berlin as the Nazis came to power, Cabaret explores social and political issues at play today.

A veteran of Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera, Matthew Steffens left New York to direct Cabaret in a city with its own history of Nazi activity.

“After the events of August 11th – and I was here in town actually performing down in the Paramount Theater that night – and to see the town robbed like that, this feels like a way of giving back and providing healing,” he says.

Steffens has worked closely with Jenny Wales – artistic director for the Virginia Theater Festival and a friend since the two were students at UVA. They’ve overseen production of a unique set and costumes for the play.

“Stitchers and electricians and carpenters from all over the country come to Charlottesville to build the set, hang the lights, make all of the costumes, props, our sound team.," she says. "It’s an incredible experience.”

Wales and Steffens say they watched about 1,500 tapes or live performances by actors hoping for a part in this musical.

“We went to New York several times, so we did probably see in person close to 300 actors, and we saw probably about a hundred actors just here in Charlottesville,” says Wales.

The role of Sally Bowles, a free spirit who performs at Berlin’s fictious Kit Kat Klub, has been played by a great range of actors over the years – Judi Dench, Michelle Williams, Emma Stone, Tina Fey and Liza Minelli.

This time, the role belongs to a familiar face from the small screen.

“People will know our Sally Bowles who is being played by Miss Ainsley Seiger from Law and Order: Organized Crime,” Steffens says.

Seiger and 19 other cast members will be on stage from July 7th through the 16th. Other plays in the festival Dear Jack, Dear Louise and An Evening with Yolanda Rabun.

“Yolanda joined us last summer for No Fear and Blues Long Gone: Nina Simone," Wales recalls. "She’s coming back this year with her full band, back-up singers, and she’s going to give an incredible night – blues, jazz, gospel, Broadway standards.”

The Virginia Theatre Festival is a program of the University of Virginia – which is also a supporter of RadioIQ.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief