Longtime fans of the musical Cabaret know there are four versions: the original from 1966, an edgier 1987 play, and an over-the-top 1998 revival — all of them Tony Award winners — plus the very different 1972 Academy Award-nominated movie by that name starring Liza Minnelli.
Director Peter Nason chose the 1987 stage version to do at Richey Suncoast Theatre on Thursday and weekends through Oct. 1.
"It's not as extreme as the 1998 version and fresher than the 1966," Nason said. The story line is the same in all three stage shows, but the staging, dialogue and some of the songs are different.
Cabaret is set in early 1930s Germany, when the Nazi Party was rising to power and life was becoming more decadent and dangerous by the day.
It tells three intertwining stories, one taking place at the raucous Kit Kat Club, where a charming Emcee (Chris Cavalier, Gavin in Caught in the Net) encourages Berliners to forget their cares and have a good time.
Two other stories happen in a seedy boardinghouse, where aspiring American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Keith Surplus, Johnny in The Unsinkable Molly Brown) pecks away at his typewriter and dips his toes into Berlin nightlife, while his landlady, Frau Schneider (Anne Lakey, Vi in Footloose), becomes involved with the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (Chip Wichmanowski, Harold Hill in The Music Man).
Clifford meets the impish English Kit Kat Club singer-dancer Sally Bowles (Elizabeth Phillips, Minnie in Hello, Dolly), whose wild ways have a strange appeal to him. She lives with club owner Max (Louie Rodriguez), but moves in with Clifford when Max throws her out.
Anti-Semitism and militarism grow virulent in Germany. Frau Schneider becomes fearful of her connection with Herr Schultz, and Clifford finds himself more involved in politics than he would like.
"Act one is a big party," Nason said. "Act two is a big hangover." Sally becomes pregnant, but is determined to have an abortion despite Clifford's objections.
"This is the first dark, dark musical (on Broadway)," Nason said. "It's shocking, and we do keep in (those shocking) lines."
Nason has tweaked certain stage elements, so it will have a new feel for those who have seen the show before. "It's the Cabaret I want to see," Nason said.
He emphasizes that two of the show's best-known songs — Cabaret and Tomorrow Belongs to Me — have very dark meanings in the context of the script.
"People misunderstand the song Cabaret," Nason said. They think it's a happy-go-lucky tune, "but it's really a girl's decision to throw everything away." Tomorrow Belongs to Me sounds like a patriotic anthem, but it portends the cruelest, most arrogant period in German thinking.
Nason is thrilled with his cast.
"I wanted an Emcee that's unpredictable, likeable and entertaining, and Chris (Cavalier), to me, has charisma," Nason said of one of his major casting choices. "He has just made this role his own."
In short, the character is a metaphor for 1930s Germany — bright on the outside, dark on the inside.
The director said the show is geared toward mature audiences. "There really isn't a G-rated version …"
Nason has taught drama at River Ridge Middle School since 2005 and was a professional actor before then. He has written two plays. One of them, Every Girl Wants to Be Annie, was performed by Players Theatre in Sarasota last summer.