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beanie tipped back on her head, watching them spin and drift into line with varying degrees of smoothness, sneakers squeaking above the music. She’s here to “tighten up” the choreography. “It’s like hearing it from another parent,” she says. When the music stops, the dancers drop their saucy postures, blow the hair off their faces and listen to August’s notes. They’re to watch finger positions and other details that will “cue the audience that this is a tight number.” She deomonstates how they can achieve “sharpness” by engaging every muscle as though they’re moving against something more than empty air. They go again, this time with Custodio shadowing them, his double claps cracking through the room. A couple weeks later on April 15, half the cast is scattered around the stage under the fluorescent lights of the Jefferson Community Center. Once the set is more or less built, they’ll move to NCRT. Jenni Simpson, who plays the prostitute Fräulein Kost, holds a script tabbed with pink Post-its. Simpson is used to performing with Jenni and David and the Sweet Soul Band but, she says, pressing the red curls back from her forehead, “Acting is not something I do.” Voss encouraged her to try out for the show and Simpson, who works as a project analyst for the environmental consulting firm GHD, saw it as a chance to stretch creatively. “It’s interesting to have a really full life and to have this absorb everything,” including some of the time she’d typically



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16  NORTH COAST JOURNAL • Thursday, May 23, 2019 •

devote to her band and her dog. “I like [Kost],” Simpson says. “Ballsy isn’t the right word but she’s kind of a badass.” It makes Kost’s betrayal, aligning herself with the Nazis, more painful to portray. “Her choice is out of her own heartbreak and despair,” she says. “After I sing ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me,’ we come back and have a circle and I’m really grateful.” Tonight they’re going through the scene leading up to the song “Somebody Wonderful,” a duet with Benson and Dianne Zuleger as Schultz and Schneider, who are newly engaged, with a wistful Kost singing in German in the background. Simpson is tentative in Kost’s telling off her landlady but soon she leans into it, sneering. “Yesss!” roars Custodio, cackling. “Give it to her!” Once the song begins, the scripts they’ve been sneaking glances at fall away and Benson and Zuleger lock eyes, their voices filling the room, which suddenly feels like a theater. Then Simpson, who doesn’t speak German, picks up the melody, singing the words with Kost’s lonely cynicism and a splinter of hope in her broad alto. When the song ends, she huffs a breath and a couple of castmates swipe at tears. Custodio asks Simpson how she’s doing during the break, telling her to let him know if anything becomes too much. There will be rough and gritty scenes in the show, depicting prostitution, violence and humiliation that could be difficult or triggering. “I’m not interested in capitalizing on anyone’s trauma,” he says. His own

training at the Webster University Conservatory of Theatre Arts was in method acting, drawing upon one’s own personal experiences and pain to bring “emotional rawness” to a performance. The result, he says, was “really powerful. But was it worth it?” The word “consent” comes up frequently in rehearsals and the players check in with each other about scenes with any contact — and there’s plenty of slapping, grinding and crotch grabbing. This is Custodio’s first time directing community theater, though he has four years directing kids at Fuente Nueva Charter School. He’s performed in Les Miserables, Rent and Chicago in Humboldt, as well as choreographing Pippin. “I know I have the ability to do what’s in my head. I do it on stage, I do it as Mantrikka [Ho],” he says, referring to his drag persona. But “to direct others and see a different interpretation is another level.” He stops to make a note in his battered spiral notebook to remind Hughes it’s time for them to “get real about consent” and what’s coming emotionally in the second act.   On May 1, two weeks away from opening night, the cast is rehearsing on the NCRT stage, where the bones of the Kit Kat Club set are built and awaiting paint. The smell of sawdust is sharp. The players move through their warmup exercises in a mix of workout clothes, skimpy costumes and heels that require some getting used to, particularly for the

“You’re hoping for that moment when the plane lifts off before you run out of runway, which is opening night.” Calder Johnson and Tigger Bouncer Custodio watch rehearsal a week before opening.

Profile for North Coast Journal

North Coast Journal 05-23-19 Edition  

Eleven Weeks Till Curtain: From auditions to preview with the cast of Cabaret, by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

North Coast Journal 05-23-19 Edition  

Eleven Weeks Till Curtain: From auditions to preview with the cast of Cabaret, by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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