Circle Theatre returns to their main stage with Cabaret


Courtesy / Ashlee McGreevy

Ayron Rutan, Staff Writer

Circle Theatre in Grand Rapids welcomed back its first indoor show since March 2020 earlier this July with a performance of “Cabaret. The shows took place on the theater’s main stage from July 15-31. 

A 12-time Tony winner, “Cabaret is set in 1931 Germany on the eve of Nazi control. The show focuses on the nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and American writer Cliff Bradshaw’s relationship with cabaret performer Sally Bowles. 

The stylish musical numbers and historical portrait of a city about to be overrun with evil made the production an exciting addition to Circle Theatre’s Main Stage catalog. 

Anticipation was at an all-time high for “Cabaret,” as it was Circle Theatre’s first major performance inside on their main stage since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020. 

Jaelyn Raiford, the actress who played Sally Bowles, said she was ready for the change of pace, as she has only been performing in pre-recorded shows for so long. 

“(The pre-recorded shows) were interesting. They don’t feel as great as going into the theater,” Raiford said. “They had us all spaced out on stage and we couldn’t walk outside of our 3-foot radius. We also had to mic ourselves and put our wigs on ourselves. It was a lot like being on a film set.”

Raiford said the lack of an audience was something that impacted her, and her fellow performers, in a negative way. 

With no audience to respond to scenes or musical numbers, she and other actors were left empty after an important moment in the show, craving that enthusiastic energy that a live audience brings to a performance. 

“Obviously I’m supposed to energize my own performance, that’s what being an actor is,” Raiford said. “But the biggest pull from live theater is that you can get off the stage knowing the audience’s thoughts and feelings about the show.”

Since the performances began on July 15, audiences have been responding well to “Cabaret” — much to Raiford’s surprise — due to some of the heavier themes the show portrays. 

The show contains rather intense subject matter, including bigotry, anti-semitism, homophobia, abortion, and the fact that it is set in 1930s Berlin as the Nazis are ascending to power. 

The controversial themes and topics of “Cabaret” are actually what Raiford said she found the most appealing, and what motivated her to want to put on a stellar performance as Sally Bowles. 

The complexity of Sally’s character and her role in the story of the Kit Kat Klub was something that Raiford said she found both very challenging, and exciting.

Courtesy / Ashlee McGreevy

“Sally is a very complex role herself, because she’s just got a lot going on,” Raiford said. “She’s super sexy, she’s super out-of-the-box and demanding for attention and that was something that was really scary for me.”

Raiford said one of the most exciting and interesting aspects of playing her role as Sally Bowles is the fact that she is a person of color performing a role traditionally done by white performers, in a play that takes place in a time where people of color wouldn’t typically be present or represented. 

“I wanted to be respectful of the subject matter because not being Jewish, I didn’t want to step on anyone else’s toes. It was a lot to think about and I had to do a lot of research to make sure I knew what I was implying in the script and also how I was presenting everything,” Raiford said. 

Raiford wasn’t the only person of color playing a traditionally white role in the production, however. She said Circle Theatre actually pursued people of color in the audition process in order to present “Cabaret” in a more modern, diverse way. 

“(The inclusion of people of color) was a big motivator for me when having auditions and callbacks and it kind of lit a fire underneath me,” Raiford said. “For the first time ever I was in an audition where I felt like (Circle Theatre) were actively looking for someone like me to fill this position.”

Circle Theatre’s return with an emotional, controversial, and forward-thinking performance of the classic musical “Cabaret” will be contrasted with their upcoming production of Noises Off, a comedy taking place on their main stage from Aug. 12-28.