Michael-David Blostein, the emcee in the upcoming Hart House production of Cabaret, is a part-time student of Art History at U of T and has spent much of his life in the performing arts. Recently, he has worked on many House productions with the UC Follies, such as Assassins and The Threepenny Opera. Cabaret has a thorough history, having undergone major alterations through its many productions, and Blostein assures that this production has its own distinctive take on the show.
The Varsity: You’re a singer, an actor, an arts student; how did you come to be such a Renaissance man?
Michael-David Blostein: I did visual arts for most of my life and started singing, not thinking I would pursue it, so I actually kind of fell into this theatre thing a couple years ago. It’s funny because Cabaret is actually the first show I did in post-secondary, and at that point I just played the club owner. I found it really interesting because it involved a different creative process to drawing, a very solitary activity involving a lot of hours alone — whereas acting has a lot to do with the energy I get from other people.
TV: How did you get involved with this production of Cabaret?
MDB: It’s funny, there’s a bit of a story. The show that really made me want to do theatre was Assassins [with UC Follies]. But I kept hearing about all this A-list talent in the Birdlands Theatre version with the director, Adam Brazier. I saw it and I was really impressed with how much he treated the musical like a play. My issue with musicals, which is also Adam’s, is that acting is the perfunctory exercise you do to get to the moment of song. So when I heard that he was doing Cabaret at Hart House, I wanted to do it with him because he was obviously going to do something amazing with it.
TV: What attracted you to the role of the emcee?
MDB: What attracted me to the emcee was that … someone as sexually ambiguous as the emcee, could be the emcee — I found that really interesting. This emcee is different than portrayals I’ve seen so far; not a Joel Grey creepy guy in a tux, not overly sexual.
I also like the idea of him kind of being a Greek chorus. To an extent, he does interrupt the action and comment on it at the same time. It also appealed to me because it was getting farther away from the music and more into the acting. I learned the music in an hour for the entire show because it’s pretty much based around a theme. Once you get that structure, it’s all to do with what you are saying in that song, because they aren’t really scored to showcase a voice. The song becomes a vehicle for the messages within the song, such as “Money,” about the incredible wealth in Berlin, versus the abject poverty.
TV: What excites you the most about being a part of this production of Cabaret?
MDB: Adam said something which was really great, and I’m paraphrasing: musicals are awesome — musicals are full of holes, and it’s our job to fill them. So how do we deserve to sing? What makes it okay to do what we’re doing on stage? What makes this particular production really exciting is that it feels far more like the theatre I’ve done. I’ve had rehearsals with Adam where we just talk about the character and the narrative of the show for an hour.
TV: Cabaret walks a line between a fun, comedic show, and a dark historical drama. How do you find working within that shifting tone?
MDB: It’s really supposed to be played like a seamless transition. The shift happens in a way that feels fluid and real, but certain moments are fun. We’ve got such amazing dancers and the chorus is so talented and so beautiful. There’s definitely a lot of fun to be had, but especially in the way I look at my character. It filters right into my area of school with modern art … When I went into the role, I was thinking about Cabaret performance art as a deliberate antithesis to modern Germany.
TV: Is this production of Cabaret more consistent with earlier or later, racier versions?
MDB: It’s racier, but one thing that Adam keeps saying is that when people put on this show, they mistake it for Chicago. The music is written by the same guy, and it’s very easy to treat it as sexy and smoky. But this is seedy, and everyone in the club is probably hooked on coke. There is not as much “appeal” in the “sex appeal” for the way we’re doing Cabaret, and it’s more uncomfortable than pleasing which is more interesting. There is more of an active choice in when the show is showy and when it’s not.
TV: Any last words?
MDB: I hope people come to the show because those who are married to a certain concept of the show will be pleasantly surprised. I also think that people who normally wouldn’t go to a musical because of a preconceived notion of what they’re in for will be surprised and entertained, and hopefully they’ll be stirred up, because even within the choreography, each actor is filled with very actorly intention. It’s going to be a very consistent and a very beautiful show.
Cabaret runs at Hart House January 13–28, 2012.