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    Tony-Winning Musical Masterpiece Cabaret Center Stage at Center Repertory Company

    Photo by Mackenzie Crane

    Center Repertory Company (REP) is proving Cabaret still captivates with a scintillating new production.

    Decades after its Broadway debut, audiences continue to be drawn into the euphoric allure of escaping to the Kit Kat Klub, where hedonistic nightlife and self-expression thrive as its occupants ignore the troubles of the world outside its doors. Cabaret‘s exploration of forces threatening to overturn democracy, the normalization of hate, and the quickness with which progress can be reversed feel timely.

    Featuring John Kander and Fred Ebb’s iconic score with songs including “Wilkommen,” “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Maybe This Time,” and the titular “Cabaret,” this legendary musical will be performed at Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek May 26–June 23, 2024.

    Photo by Mackenzie Crane

    Center REP’s Artistic Producer Markus Potter directs this production. A Concord native who was raised by a civil rights activist, Potter pursues theatrical work that speaks against injustice and amplifies the voices of vulnerable communities. He has long wanted to direct Cabaret, hoping audiences are not only captivated by the dazzling music, thrilling choreography, and intriguing story but also are inspired to ponder about our society today.

    “The themes of identity, freedom, and the perils of indifference within Cabaret are eerily relevant, mirroring the contemporary rise of many forms of hate,” said Potter. “This production is envisioned as a catalyst for dialogue, urging our audience to reflect on their societal roles and the dangers of complacency.”

    Photo by Mackenzie Crane

    The real-life sexual freedom of the Weimar Era nightclub scene is at the heart of this musical masterpiece. One hundred years ago, queer life flourished in Berlin. During the 1920s, gay nightclubs provided a haven for the LGBTQIA+ community, where clubgoers could enjoy sexual freedom and live their lives openly. Among those boîtes was the glittering Eldorado (spotlighted in the Netflix documentary Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate). It and dozens of other clubs’ doors were quickly slammed shut in the 1930s when the Nazi regime came to power. Legal restrictions against homosexuality lingered in Germany for decades after the war, leaving a lasting impact for generations. The Eldorado itself is now a grocery store, a beacon of queer history lost to time. 

    Queer Bay Area theatre veteran Rotimi Agbabiaka steps into the role of the Cabaret’s irreverent and intriguing master of ceremonies, a ringleader for the decadent fun of the Kit Kat Klub. In addition to commanding performances Off-Broadway with Playwrights Horizons and around the Bay Area (including American Conservatory Theater, Magic Theatre, and more), they also dazzle on nightlife stages—formerly playing a drag character called Zombie Minelli (Zombie with a Z!), they now perform as alter-ego Miss Cleo Patois, a theatrical, live-singing, jazz-dancing conduit of high and low culture who has been spotted at OASIS, San Jose Pride, and more.

    Agbabiaka was inspired to pursue theatre professionally after performing as the Emcee in college, enjoying the role’s playful connection with the audience and delving into the character’s colorful, queer, and multifaceted persona. For the Center REP production, costume designer Becky Bodurtha leans into the Emcee’s gender-expansive nature, with a wide variety of costumes spanning sultry to sinister.

    Photo by Mackenzie Crane

    “What Cabaret does so well is allow the audience to experience the thrill and subversion of queer Berlin in the 1930s and the uncertainty and looming horror of the Nazi era,” says Agbabiaka. “Ultimately the audience is left with the question Fraulein Schneider poses: ‘What would you do?’ And I imagine there could be as many answers as there are audience members.”

    Agbabiaka is joined onstage by Monique Hafen Adams as chanteuse Sally Bowles, Jacob Henrie-Naffaa as expat novelist Clifford Bradshaw, Kelly Ground as landlady Fräulein Schneider, Richard Farrell as Jewish fruit seller Herr Scultz, Michelle Drexler as Fräulein Kost, Paul Plain as Max, and Charlie Levy as Ernst Ludwig.

    Center Repertory Company presents Cabaret May 26–June 23, 2024, at Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets and information, call the box office at 925-943-7469 or visit:

    Arts & Entertainment
    Published on May 23, 2024