Nathan Lee Graham as the Emcee PHOTO Jerry Naunheim, Jr.©
WHY I CAST THAT ACTOR
MARCIA MILGROM DODGE Marcia Milgrom Dodge on casting Nathan Lee Graham in Cabaret Cabaret, a co-production between The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, offered me the opportunity to revisit the show, as it was my second time directing and choreographing this landmark musical. (I first directed the show in 2011 for Reprise Theatre Company in Los Angeles.) Artistic Directors Steven Woolf and Blake Robison and I began casting in the spring of 2013 for our fall 2013 production. Casting director Rich Cole was charged with bringing in the most exciting actors for us to see. When Nathan Lee Graham walked into the room, we all sat up and opened our hearts and minds to the prospect of casting an African American as the Emcee. “His take on the songs was wildly innovative, and as an African American, Nathan added levels to this character that have rarely been seen,” says Woolf. At the callbacks, we offered Nathan the role. Yes, our story is centered on the German-Jewish-Nazi conflict, but the person who invites the audience into this story, the one who breaks the fourth wall and comments on the action, who satirizes the plight of Sally Bowles and her unlikely suitor, Cliff, who portends to know the outcome, is the Emcee. Steve, Blake, and I welcomed the exciting opportunity to add another layer to this story in a way that makes it even more provocative in its telling in the year 2013. Nathan and I have some history. We first worked together on a big original musical at the Goodman Theatre in 1991. It was called Riverview. Written by John Logan, with popular music of the 1940s and ’50s, it told the stories of Chicagoans who lived and worked in Riverview Park, a real amusement park set inside urban Chicago in the post-WWII era. Nathan was in the ensemble and featured in the sideshow sequence. This was a show cast color-consciously. There were black and white characters and
| WINTER WINTER2014 2014
the conflicts stemmed from their races. In one scene, he played a gorilla in a cage. Now, in Cabaret, to have Nathan sing “If You Could See Her” while dancing with a gorilla was not lost on me. I had the extraordinary opportunity to cast an iconic role “against type” and I did so with great responsibility. I delved into research about Blacks in Germany in the late ’20s and early ’30s and discovered a number of resources that told of black American performers who became celebrated in Europe for their art. So is it a colorblind or color-conscious choice? At the time we made this decision: it was color-conscious. To our knowledge, the role had never been played by an actor of color. The role’s most acclaimed performances were by Joel Grey and Alan Cumming, both Caucasian. But in hindsight, I believe it to be colorblind. There is nothing in the text to suggest that the Emcee is any particular color or from any particular race. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of character provided to suggest he’s a real person. The Emcee is described as “a leering, ghoulish, flamboyant figure.” Gender isn’t even specified. His role is meant to stand apart from the stories depicted by Cliff and Sally and Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. He has no name. But how can an actor get inside of a “figure”? In the backstory Nathan created, he’s an African American living abroad, à la Josephine Baker, who becomes accepted by Germans for his art and uncanny ability to entertain. I am indebted to Rich Cole for bringing Nathan in for the role and I am richer for having the opportunity to work with Nathan to create his unique Emcee.
SUSAN WOOLF BOOTH since 1998 RICH COLE since 1996 | MARCIA MILGROM DODGE since 1979 | BLAKE ROBISON since 2012 | STEVEN 1987