Set against the backdrop of the Nazis’ rise to power in 1930s Germany, Cabaret offers a devastating critique of apathy and a terrifying look at totalitarianism. Those themes are especially relevant now, lending considerable gravity to the recent performance of the enduring musical by the College of Performing Arts (COPA).
Following last year’s performances of Happy End, students from Mannes School of Music, the School of Jazz, and the School of Drama — all of which came together to form COPA two years ago — were all featured in the performances of Cabaret.
“Cabaret is one of the great masterpieces of American theater, and musical theater in general,” says Kevin Newbury, who directed the performances. “We chose it for the opportunity it provides students to work together across disciplines and explore pressing political themes.”
The Musical Theater Performance Lab allowed cast members to rehearse for months in a collaborative environment that highlights The New School’s approach to interdisciplinary learning. Actors from Drama were given the chance to sing and dance, while musicians from Mannes and Jazz played in the live orchestra and onstage.
“There is so much overlap in the industry now. To have all these different students in the same room together is an incredible achievement,” Newbury says. “They bring out the best in each other; they influence each other. It’s a real ensemble.”
The opportunity was not lost on the cast members, many of whom developed a new appreciation for musical theater, according to musical director Leslie Stifelman. The students learned new methods of performing and collaborating, laying the groundwork for future endeavors.
“It feels like the first COPA community, because none of these kids would know each other if the schools hadn’t been combined,” Stifelman says. “They are feeling a part of the world, part of the industry because we have some people from Broadway shows who are coming in and giving them feedback.”
COPA has staged cross-disciplinary performances in the past, including Steppenwolf, from Jochem le Cointre, Jazz ’16, and Robert Ashley’s experimental opera Dust. Both Happy End and Cabaret made a lasting impression on all participants thanks to the extraordinary collaborative nature of the works.
“Musical theater, for my money, is the best kind of theater to work in because it’s the most collaborative,” said Ellie MacPherson, Drama ’18, who played the role of Sally Bowles. “We developed a vocabulary of collaboration throughout that yearlong class.”