By George Basler

When the musical Cabaret opened on Broadway in 1966, it broke with the conventions of the time. Moving past its lively music and dances, it featured a dark story about a society descending into the madness of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

The abrupt mood change was intended to unsettle audiences.

The combination worked. Cabaret was a smash hit, running for 1,166 performances. Since then, it’s inspired numerous revivals and a movie of the same name, which won numerous Academy Awards and is now listed on the National Film Registry.

The Ti-Ahwaga Community Players will present the classic musical for three weekends, beginning Friday, Feb. 2, at their playhouse in Owego.

The company decided to stage Cabaret more than a year ago, because “we wanted to pick a classic musical that has been done but not in a while,”said producer Emily Canavan.

Since then, the rise of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide, linked to the war in Gaza, has made Cabaret’s theme even more timely. “It hits differently now from when we first picked it,” Canavan added, noting audiences can’t help but see the connection between historical events and what’s happening today.

The musical takes place in Berlin in 1929-30 during the twilight of the Jazz Age and the Nazis’ rise to power. Part of it is set in a sleazy nightclub, the Kit Kat Club. The main plot focuses on the relationship between Sally Bowles, an aspiring singer in the club, and Clifford Bradshaw, an American writer.

Cabaret’s origin is a series of stories written by American novelist, playwright and screenwriter Christopher Isherwood, who lived in Germany from 1929 to 1933 when Hitler and the Nazis were coming to power.

The stories, which focused on the fictitious Bowles, were adapted by John Van Druten into the hit Broadway play I Am a Camera in 1951. In the 1960s, producer/director Harold Prince acquired the rights and hired Broadway heavyweights Joe Masteroff (book), John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) to turn the play into a musical.

The subsequent film adaptation made some plot changes and dropped some songs, but Ti-Ahwaga is doing the stage version, Canavan said.

The 16-member cast includes performers who have been seen across the region in other productions. Ryan Canavan plays the flashy role of the emcee in the Kit Kat Club. Ilana Rose Wallenstein plays the central role of Bowles, and Alex Mextorf plays Bradshaw, the writer who becomes besotted by Sally.

Douglas Harrington is the show’s director. Although this is his first directing job at Ti-Ahwaga, he previously directed shows while a student at Binghamton University and produced Ti-Ahwaga’s The Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Nicole Purtell is choreographing the chorus line at the Kit Kat Club. A 12-piece live orchestra will accompany the actors.

Ti-Ahwaga is presenting the musical from an historical standpoint. “Here’s what happened then (that) can happen now,” Emily Canavan said.

“We’re definitely staying true to the vibe of the original musical,” she added.

IF YOU GO: Cabaret will open a three-weekend run on Friday, Feb. 2, and run through Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at or by calling 607-687-2130.