Malibu Stage to open ‘Cabaret’ this weekend

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A family affair: Director Jeff Passero (right) directs his wife Elizabeth (middle) and daughter Lilly (left) in the Malibu Stage Company’s latest production, “Caberet.” The play features production by local actor Dick Van Dyke. 

Malibu Stage Company’s next production, opening this weekend, is not just one of Broadway’s most celebrated, award-winning musicals, it’s also somewhat of a family affair. “Cabaret” is being directed by eminent director/casting director/acting coach Jeff Passero, who has cast his daughter Lilli Passero in the lead role of Sally Bowles, and his wife Elizabeth Hayden-Passero in a couple of other roles. 

It’s not that he couldn’t find other available actresses in Los Angeles.

“Yes, she’s my daughter, but Lilli is brilliantly talented,” Jeff Passero said. “She brings great honesty to her work and I have no anxiety about what will be on stage. I selfishly asked her to do this role because I know what she can do, whereas I don’t know what someone else will bring. She makes me feel secure with how it will play.”

For the first time at Malibu Stage Company, beloved entertainer Dick Van Dyke is producing the show. He got involved when one of his protégés, Brent Moon, expressed interest in doing the show. 

“I said, ‘You were born to play this part,’ (Moon is playing the role of the emcee)” Van Dyke said. “Jeff Passero has found the highest caliber of talent with beautiful voices and great dancers. I think this production is going to raise the bar for Malibu Stage.” 

“Cabaret,” written by Christopher Isherwood with music and lyrics by the iconic team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, first opened on Broadway in 1966, won eight Tony Awards and ran for more than 1,000 performances. A London production (starring Judi Dench) was not as successful, but a number of revivals were produced. The 1998 Broadway revival snagged another four Tonys. 

The musical’s enduring appeal is rooted in its provocative storyline as much as its classic musical comedy score. Set in Berlin in the early 1930s, the story follows a nightclub singer, Sally Bowles, working in the seedy Kit Kat Klub during the rise of nationalism and the Nazi Party in the new Weimar Republic. Along with the rest of the residents who live in her boarding house and fellow club performers, Bowles is swept up in a live-for-today lifestyle, oblivious to the dark clouds forming on society’s horizon.

The 1972 Bob Fosse film of “Cabaret” won eight Academy Awards and launched Liza Minnelli into the stratosphere of stardom. So was 22-year-old Lilli Passero a bit intimidated at taking on this signature role?

“No, our show is the 1998 revival version that Natasha Richardson did and her Sally Bowles was a completely different character,” Lilli said. “The original story has Sally being 19 years old, so I don’t feel I have to follow these seasoned older actresses. Sally is close to my age, a selfish person and it wouldn’t occur to her to pay any attention to politics. She just wants to be larger than life and a star. So it’s because of people like her that Hitler was able to come to power.” 

Lilli said it was “interesting” to be directed by her father, but not unfamiliar. He had coached her through auditions for her alma mater Carnegie Mellon University, and their shared passion and commitment mean that they communicate well. 

“This is a big undertaking and I knew that I would have to bring my family on board with me, if I undertook this,” Jeff Passero said. “So my wife is my assistant director and took on a couple of roles and I lean on her tremendously. It takes a village.” 

Passero was also determined to find the best cast possible – not an easy task, when the theatre is located far from Hollywood actors’ usual haunts. He ended up casting just-graduated students from UCLA (“I figured they’d be hungry to do a show,” Passero said), some recent graduates from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and some students from Carnegie Mellon. 

When asked about the political overtones of the production, Passero said this was one reason he wanted to take it on. 

“This show remains socially conscious and very relevant,” Passero said. “You look at the divisions and hate-mongering in our country right now and it’s the same story.” 

“Good theatre should awaken you,” he continued. “This is a great musical and a great score. Hopefully, you’ll walk away enlightened as well.” 

“Cabaret” runs Nov. 3-Dec. 9 at the Malibu Stage Company Theatre, 29243 Pacific Coast Highway. Tickets and information may be found at www.brownpapertickets.com or the theatre box office: 310.589.1998.