Director Phillip Fazio has big ideas for his Mesa Encore Theatre production of the musical “Cabaret.”
What he doesn’t have, though, is much of a budget. Such is the nature of community theater.
“It’s forced me to be as creative as possible,” says Fazio, 25.
Which is why his staging of the 1960s Kander and Ebb musical — about a Weimar-era nightclub and the relationships that form under looming Nazism — won’t get the glitzy, near-Las Vegas-worthy staging that the professional Phoenix Theatre wowed Valley audiences with three seasons back.
Fazio’s version doesn’t even have a set, just eight chairs and a curtain. (Taking a cue from the 1998 New York revival, Fazio is transforming the Mesa Arts Center’s intimate black-box space into a pseudo-cabaret with tables and chairs for the audience.)
Still, his stripped-down staging does borrow the secret weapon that made Phoenix Theatre’s production such a fine jewel: Chandler actress Sarah Wolter, 25, playing the nightclub chanteuse Sally Bowles, the musical’s entrancing (if heart-sore) heroine.
In recent seasons, Wolter — a whip-smart, triple-threat talent with an elegantly equine beauty — has tackled everything from professional theater (she’s an artist-in-residence at Phoenix Theatre this season) to indie theater (Nearly Naked Theatre’s goofy “Bat Boy: The Musical”) to, in this case, volunteer community theater.
Think of her as the Valley’s own Maggie Gyllenhaal.
At the end of last season, Wolter starred in Mesa Encore Theatre’s production of the
modern relationship musical “The Last Five Years,” also directed by Fazio, a longtime friend. That show proved a success, even if it did feature the first R-rated expletive in the community theater’s history. Fazio was asked what show he’d like to do next; “Cabaret,” his favorite musical, was a natural choice. As was Wolter, he says.
“I’ve watched her grow as an artist,” Fazio says. “She always brings something in to rehearsal I never would have thought of.”
For Wolter, the show’s appeal has a lot to do with the wounded character of Sally — delusionally longing for a perfectly marvelous life even as the realities of Nazism come crashing down around her. That’s rich stuff for an actress.
“The story,” says Wolter, “reflects Sally’s self-destruction as a parallel to the destruction of Berlin at the time. It just breaks your heart, you know?”
Of course, there’s no denying the appeal of Sally’s cabaret numbers — from the teasy romp of “Don’t Tell Mama” to the heart-tugging title tune.
“I think it’s the kind of piece that will surprise people a lot,” Wolter says of the show. “There’s a certain element that will challenge the audience. It’s not a 'sit back while we entertain you’ kind of piece. Hopefully they’ll be pleasantly thrown.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, closing Nov. 11
Where: Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St.
Cost: $25, $20 for seniors and students
Information: (480) 644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com