The Theatre in the Park’s 2016 season opens Friday with “Cabaret,” a Tony Award-winning musical that features the romance of a vivacious cabaret singer and an American writer in 1930 Berlin as the Nazi Party rises in power.
Making their first appearances on The Theatre stage in Shawnee are Liz Golson of Overland Park, who portrays the racy, flirtatious cabaret singer Sally Bowles, and Avery Bell of Lenexa, the American writer who meets Sally at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and an intense romance ensues.
“Sally is an all-time favorite of mine,” Golson said. “I first played her right after I graduated from college. I couldn’t wait to audition when I learned ‘Cabaret’ was in the 2016 season.”
“She’s an incredible character, well-aware of her sexuality and what she can get away with. It’s fun playing a character who behaves like she does but I don’t think I could get away with it,” Golson said with a laugh. “I’m just happy I can bring her to life on the stage.”
Golson grew up in Fairhope, Ala. “Most of the girls in my graduating class talked about being teachers or nurses. Not me, I wanted to be on Broadway,” she said.
After five years in New York, where she met her husband, Grant, a native of Prairie Village and also an actor, they left New York and settled in Overland Park. “It was time to get out of New York City. I miss Broadway, but I don’t miss New York,” she said.
Besides starting a family since moving to Overland Park, she has performed at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the New Theatre and Music Theatre Heritage.
Bell is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he majored in theater.
“I grew up in Mission, Kansas, but our family moved to Michigan about 10 years ago,” Bell said. “I was active in theater there, then I took a job in the Kansas City area in September and moved to Lenexa. Now I’m involved in the magic of theater here.
“ ‘Cabaret’ is a great show with depth. It’s intense and brings out the underlying doubts the characters, like Cliff, have,” Bell said. “Cliff’s experience in Berlin gives him courage and confidence. Even Sally breaks down and becomes very human. The show is loaded with emotion.”
“Liz is a fantastic partner,” he said. “We’re having a lot of fun. Actually, the entire cast is fantastic. Everyone in the show is great. We’re a close family.”
Fraulein Schneider, who rents Cliff a room in her boarding house, is portrayed by Kristi Mitchell of Overland Park. Sally soon moves in with Cliff as their love deepens. Herr Schultz, a fruit shop owner, ultimately falls in love with Schneider and they plan to marry.
Victor Castillo of Kansas City plays Herr Schultz. “I’m having a good time with Fraulein Schneider,” said Castillo, whose most recent show at The Theatre was “Sweeney Todd.” “We have a couple of songs and several good scenes together.”
Rob Hallifax of Overland Park plays Max, owner of the Kit Kat Klub, and Joell Ramsdell, also of Overland Park, plays the Klub’s leering, ghoulish Master of Ceremonies.
Andrew McCarl of Stanley portrays Ernst Ludwig, the first person Cliff meets when he arrives in Berlin and recommends Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house. Later Ludwig dons a Nazi armband and warns Schneider not to marry Herr Schultz.
Jessica Alcorn of Roeland Park plays Fraulein Kost, one of Schneider’s boarders who is accused of bringing sailors to her room. When Schneider orders her not to do it again, Kost said she’s seen her and Herr Schultz in a room together. Herr Shultz saves Schneider’s reputation by telling Kost they plan to marry.
Mary Williams, a preschool teacher who lives in Topeka, is doing “double duty” at The Theatre in the Park this season. She’s one of the Kit Kat Klub dancers in “Cabaret” and later a dancer in “A Chorus Line,” which runs July 1- 9.
“The shows are my favorites so being able to have a part in them makes the drives to Overland Park well worthwhile,” Williams said. “My first time at The Theatre was last summer in ‘West Side Story.’ I really enjoyed it.”
“Cabaret” is directed by Mark Swezey, director of theater at Shawnee South High School. He also directed “Cabaret” when it was first produced at The Theatre in 1988.
“Cabaret’ is a story of the consequences of wearing blinders to those unpleasant realities around us,” Swezey said. “It is my hope, in this election year, that through theater and art, we can take a step in today’s world to remove the obstructions and rhetoric from our view of the real world.”
The 2016 season
“Cabaret”: Friday-Sunday and Wednesday through next Saturday, rated PG-16
“The Drowsy Chaperone”: June 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 24 and 25, rated G
“A Chorus Line”: July 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9, rated PG-16
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”: July 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22 and 23, rated G
“Mary Poppins”: White Theatre at Jewish Community Center July 9, 14, 16, 21 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and July 10, 17 and 24 at 2 p.m.: The Theatre in the Park July 29, 30, 31, Aug. 3, 4, 5 and 6, rated G
Show time is 8:30 p.m. for all shows at The Theatre in the Park. The box office opens at 6 p.m. and gates to the seating bowl open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 adults, $6 youths and children 3 and under are free. The Theatre in the Park is in Shawnee Mission Park at 7710 Renner Road in Shawnee.