Melissa Hart readies her return to 'Cabaret'


To learn the ins of outs of Sally Bowles in Frank Theatre's new production of Cabaret, Sara Richardson had an expert in the cast she could turn to for advice. Melissa Hart, who plays Frau Schneider here, performed on Broadway and on tour as Bowles in Hal Prince's original 1960s production.

For Hart, it's a way to come full circle on a career that has included performing and teaching throughout the country and now continues at the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, where Cabaret will play through March.

Hart first worked with Frank director Wendy Knox in 2007 in the Ordway's production of The Sound of Music. "I was looking for a new adventure. I had done what I had wanted to do in New York." So the trip to St. Paul was a test run of sorts, and Hart found that she enjoyed the area, and also enjoyed working with Knox.

After she and her husband relocated to the capitol city, Knox began teaching and working again with Knox. This time, it was in a Frank production, By the Bog of Cats. "I was struck by her technique," Hart says, noting that when putting a musical on its feet, Knox is as likely to direct from the book as the score. She also involves the entire cast in the decision-making process.

"I found it unsettling that someone else could comment on 'my' scene, but I found that if I just kept saying 'yes' and opening myself to suggestions that I learned so much more about the character and the scene. The whole cast is really owning the show," Hart says.

On the surface, Cabaret doesn't seem to fit Frank's usual fair, which often tackles difficult subjects like the Liberian civil war (last year's Eclipsed) and authors such as Franz Kafka and Bertolt Brecht. Still, if you scratch the surface of the musical you can find a beating, dark heart. Cabaret features legendary contributions by John Kander and Fred Ebb and is drawn from Christopher Isherwood's memoirs of time spent in Weimar Germany before the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. In typical fashion, Knox has done considerable research into the time and place for the cast to use, which Hart has used and appreciated while creating her character.

All of the hard work by the cast (which also includes Bradley Greenwald as the Emcee, Patrick Bailey as Herr Schultz, and Max Wojtanowicz as Cliff) and crew (Hart shares the music director job with Michael Croswell) has turned this Cabaret into something that Hart--who has performed in the show hundreds upon hundreds of times through the years--has not quite seen before.

The approach to the material, the movement, and show's concept has all caused a shift. "This is becoming more a play with music," Hart says.

Cabaret runs through March 27.

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