Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Willkommen, Bienvenue!

Here's a little piece I hope to get published in my college alumni magazine. The jury is still out on whether that will happen, though. Either way, enjoy.

On an autumn night during my freshman year of college I had a fantastic experience.

It all started when a friend that I had made during the first weeks of school asked me if I wanted to go with her to see the dress rehearsal of the school’s production of “Cabaret.” This friend of mine was chummy with a cast member in the show and had special access to the staging. I agreed and I’m glad I did, because the performance that night blew my mind.

Up until that point, I had been only used to seeing high school productions of musicals, which weren’t bad, per say. But the moment that I walked into my college auditorium for the dress rehearsal I knew that I had entered a whole new realm.

The “Cabaret” dancers -- all girls in their very early 20s -- danced in perfect time to the music and moved with the authority of Broadway performers. They sang powerfully, and well, and their eyes shone as they strutted their stuff across the stage. Moreover, they looked totally at ease in their short, Jazz-Age skirts and thigh-high stockings.

The girls, indeed, were great. But believe it or not, they were not the most memorable thing about the show that evening. The guy who played the part of the emcee was.

In the musical “Cabaret,” the most prominent role is that of Sally Bowles, the nightclub singer and ingĂ©nue. But another key role is that of the cabaret’s master of ceremonies.

And in the State University of New York College at Cortland 2000 production of “Cabaret” that part was played by Jeff.

Jeff -- crazy that I still remember his name -- oozed charisma.

Wearing a tuxedo and top hat and wielding a cane, he had really turned himself into the strange, flamboyant man that is the cabaret emcee.

I think the feature that drew me to him so much, though, was his passion and exuberance. He almost seemed possessed, as if when he looked out on the audience -- that is, those of us sitting in the Dowd auditorium -- he was really seeing a 1930s Weimar Republic crowd.

He also sang with wild conviction, and I can still clearly hear the first few lyrics to "Willkommen," his character’s main number: “Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!” In fact, it was during Jeff’s singing of “Willkommen” that I first learned how to pronounce the word “bienvenue.”

Jeff seemed to have everything under his control, just like the emcee should. He was the ringleader, the inciter, the one who gets the audience pumping and all riled up.

The cabaret girls...the cabaret girls were great. But Jeff was even better, and on that night, while watching that performance, I knew that I had arrived. I was, in a way, no longer in a world I had known. I was now in a more adult world: one where theatrical roles were brought to life by people who were just a little older than the people I had left behind in high school but were strikingly more mature.

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