It's all in his head

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Key points "Cabaret" (1998 Broadway revival) 8 p.m. today; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday Julie Harris Theatre at the Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp $12 for adults; $10 for children 10 and younger 879-7125 Photo: Matt Krinbring, 17, and Nora Livingston, 15, rehearse for this weekend's production of "Cabaret." By Autumn Phillips

If you've only heard the music to "Cabaret" and never seen a production, you're in for a surprise.

"People who think about 'Cabaret' just from knowing the music think it's wacky. They think of Liza Minelli, but it's actually a very dark, powerful, political show," director Jason S. Little said.

This is Little's first year directing musical theater at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp. "Cabaret" always has been a favorite production of his, and this w as his first chance to stage it.

"I chose it because it's well-known and well-loved, but it's also more adult and more political than many musicals, and Perry-Mansfield is about giving the kids opportunities they wouldn't get in high school," Little said.

"Cabaret" is set in Berlin in 1931 during Adolph Hitler's rise to power.

Although theater companies have produced this play thousands of times across the country, there is always a fresh way of looking at the story and the characters, Little said. "Right now, we are at war, and we've been talking a lot about that."

When the Broadway musical was written in 1966, it was based on the John Van Druten play "I am a Camera." The lead character of "Cabaret" is an American in Germany, and the story is seen through his eyes.

"We talked a lot about World War II," Little said. "Economics led to the country following Hitler. He told them 'I'm going to get you out of this.'

"For us, a big part of the show was about looking at the elements that make up war and governmental changes."

The set, designed by Billy Nelson, originally was realistic with literal rooms and furniture, but the deeper the cast got into the psychological drama of the play, the more they agreed that a realistic landscape was inappropriate for the mood they were trying to set.

"We trashed it and went to something more surreal and more suggestive," Little said. "We want it to appear as if the whole story happens inside the lead character's brain. That really freed us."

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