Cabaret Milwaukee is a unique and distinctive local variety show sculpted around a retro-contemporary style. The show features an drama/adventure serial accompanied by quite a lot of other acts. The group’s latest show THE CLOCKWORK MAN ORIGINS opens this week at the Astor Hotel. Cabaret Milwaukee’s Josh B. Bryan took a few moments to answer a few questions about the group’s latest outing.
A Cabaret Milwaukee show is very distinct. How would you describe it for people who haven’t been to a performance?
Cabaret MKE is a is a live theatre company that writes and produces original material drawing inspiration from radio shows of the 30's & 40's. We stage our sit down cabaret shows with attentive period accuracy and detailed stagecraft. There's our host, house band, crooner, a jingle crew, stand up comedians, bit segments like Mrs Millies innuendo-laden domestic tips, local and world news of the day drawn straight from newspapers dated the year we're going for (1937 for this series), and even a tap dancer because that's the sort of thing that folks of yesteryear did. Of course no show was complete without it's radio play and that's our anchor that keeps the show flowing. The show that our audience watches swings back and forth between radio segments and scenes of the radio play; a play within a play. It's a format that allows us to use various performance mediums, the sort of eclectic mix you might otherwise only see in a Vaudeville production, but still script and compose them to all contribute to a linear story. While the show bits don't share the characters or time frame as the play, they do reflect each other in theme, tone, or juxtaposition.
You’ve done shows at a number of different locations. For THE CLOCKWORK MAN ORIGINS you’re returning to The Astor Hotel. It seems like a very good fit for vintage radio-inspired drama. What’s it like working out of the Astor?
The Astor has been fantastic! The 20's art deco theme and antiqued finish of the bar (not the ballroom) is the perfect setting for us, even the pictures of actors off the old silver screen hanging on the wall reek of the era we reach for. Even the layout of the bar fits our format well, cabaret tables and seating on either side of the space almost feels like theatre in the round. There is comfortable seating for close to 60, 80 if we fill in the gaps, and even high top tables and chairs for people in the back. The odd pillars around the room give us perfect stage boundaries that, with minimal set dressing, serve as any backdrop we choose to take you to. We did our second show of last season here at The Astor for two weeks and this season we're able to do two shows for three weekends each. That's a first for us! It will also be particularly rewarding to have have one space to present in for two shows in a row. As always, our Valentines show will be at Best Place which is conveniently also on Juneau Ave, right across downtown.
Not much information is available about your new Clockwork Man trilogy. Could this be a sort of a hardboiled detective-meets-steampunk sort of a thing? The title has me picturing Philip K. Dick’s ELECTRIC ANT or the electric Lincoln from WE CAN BUILD YOU. What have you drawn from for inspiration in the script?
Not so much of the gangsters or detectives this time around. This season we're taking you on a Lovecraftian romp circa WWI! An otherwise melodramatic romance takes a turn for the sinister when the villain of the story, while traveling on a humanitarian mission in India, discovers a way to pull the soul out of a body and put it into a powder. Meanwhile the heroes of the story share an unlikely meeting in the muddiest and bloodiest of WWI trenches.
You’ve done extended multi-part serial fiction for Cabaret Milwaukee in the past. How set is the story for all three parts by the time the first one has made it to the stage? Is it all rigidly set down or do you adjust over the course of a season?
Our trilogies are always set in terms of story and arc trajectories however fleshing them out in time for rehearsals has at times been nail biting. Writing our own stories over the course of a trilogy does afford us the layer of being able to taylor to the cast somewhat.
You start a story in September that you won’t be finishing until February. Do you expect to draw artistic satisfaction from each episode, or is there going to be a gradually mounting stress until the whole thing is finished on February 17th?
It would be awfully rude of us to string one story out that long! It is a triology in so much as some characters overlap from one episode to another. As any good soap opera does, however, every episode we tie and untie a new knot in the greater stories thread.
What can you tell us about the talent assembled for this month’s show? What are some of the supporting features you’re using to back-up the main story this time around?
From the radio show you will recognize Richard Howling, Dora Diamond, Mrs Millie, and Micheal Palmisano with all new material for their characters. The jingle crew is still a 3 part harmony but with some rotation of the singers. One of them in fact was a lead in the radio play last season. A new sports caster character is being introduced this episode. Another new character will be introduced later this season as well. Dani will be doing a duet with another tap dancer who is also a former radio play actor. Our band this episode will include a sitar to compliment the radio play setting. In the radio play we have almost a whole cast who havent even seen a cabMKE show. This is pretty exciting as they have almost no idea what the other half of the production they are in is.
Cabaret Milwaukee’s production of The Clockwork Man: Origins runs Sep. 14 - Oct. 1 at the Astor Hotel on 924 E. Juneau Ave. For ticket reservations, visit the show’s page on Brown Paper Tickets.