In Selma’s Arts Center’s ‘Cabaret,’ Meg Clark happily gets dark
It’s a long way from the prim silliness of Josephine in “H.M.S. Pinafore” to the world-worn addictions of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.” Meg Clark says it’s her most challenging role yet.
Pictured above: Meg Clark isn’t sitting alone in her room in ‘Cabaret.’ Photo: Selma Arts Center
The Selma Arts Center production, which opens Friday, Nov. 8, for a three-weekend run, is a chance for the golden-toned, sweet-faced Clark — who has performed in everything from Gilbert and Sullivan for Good Company Players to “Urinetown” for Stageworks — to explore some messy, dark dysfunction. I wanted to dive deeply into her thoughts about Sally. In phone and email interviews, we talked about this classic character and her take on it.
Q: Let’s say you bump into Sally Bowles for the first time at a party. What would she be drinking? How would she be dressed? What would she be like? Do you think you’d end up talking with her for a long time?
A: She’d definitely be drinking gin and wearing something with fur accents. She would quite literally be the life of the party, so I think I might be too intimidated to talk to her.
Are you a member of The Munro Review? Win a pair of special stage-level tickets to Selma Arts Center’s ‘Cabaret.’ Sit at a bar table and enjoy complimentary beverages. To enter, leave a comment on this post. You can pick from Saturday matinee, Saturday evening or Sunday matinee performances on opening weekend. Deadline to enter is 10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8.
Q: Sally has the gift of charisma, but she is still stuck at the Kit Kat Klub. Why do you think that is?
A: I think Sally has these big dreams of being a star, but is held back by circumstance and her own delusion and addiction. Ultimately, she’s got to survive. So working to maintain basic needs, like food and shelter, especially as a single woman at that time, meant being resourceful and latching on to people or places that could provide her with just enough stability. The Klub, for all its issues, gave her some semblance of stardom and also a place to feel at home, albeit a dysfunctional one.
Q: You told me that you think Sally has contradictory qualities: She’s strong and independent, but she’s also naive. What other contradictions do you find in the character? I guess you could say that we’re all contradictory in some ways. Do you think you are?
A: For me, the most interesting contradiction in Sally’s character is how she can be both jaded and world-worn while still being childlike and starry-eyed.
I’d agree with you that we are all contradictory to some degree. I think I’m definitely contradictory in nature–one way being I love performing but it also absolutely terrifies me!
Q: This is the first time you’ve been in “Cabaret,” and of course the first time to play Sally Bowles. What kinds of conversations did you have with director Michael Flores about the character? What you have you learned about her since you started playing her?
A: Michael and I did talk a lot about those contradictions I mentioned, as well as her motivations and background, how and why she ended up in Berlin and at the Kit Kat Klub. We both agreed that Sally is a person who has been through more than her fair share of hardship, and finding that personality of someone so damaged and tragic, but also resilient and even hopeful, was fascinating. I feel like I’m constantly learning about her, something new each time I step onstage. Her confidence and shamelessness inspire me. We also explored the intricacies of Sally and Cliff’s relationship, especially in regards to his sexuality. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, though.
Q: It’d be hard not to watch “Cabaret” in 2019 and not draw some kind of comparison to our contemporary political scene. There are no MAGA hats in this production, but do you think there’s a political statement being made?
A: I think “Cabaret” is written to be political. It should cause the audience to reflect on what evils we as a society might be deliberately ignoring and asking the question: “When will it be too late to finally do something?” I truly believe theatre doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and we are all walking in with at least some awareness of what is going on in the world. I don’t think a direct reference to our 2019 political climate needed to be spelled out in this production — I think it’s a lot more effective to look at how these characters responded to the escalating situation in 1930s Germany and consider how we might be deluding ourselves as well.
Q: There have been lots of “Sallys” over the years. Is yours closer to Liza Minnelli or Natasha Richardson?
A: I really can’t say! It’s so hard to assess how my own performance might be perceived. Everyone has an opinion on the “right way” to play Sally, but I didn’t want to try to copy anyone because that wouldn’t have felt honest. I really did try to make this Sally my own, while respecting those who have come before me. I will say that I was deeply inspired by how Richardson was able to so effectively convey Sally’s duality of toughness and vulnerability. And there’s really just no comparing anyone with Liza. She’s Liza!
Q: Richardson had a thin, weak voice, and yet she made the character work in the famed Broadway revival. Your voice is not thin and not weak; it’s beautiful, in fact. I guess my question is this: Is it harder to do Sally when you’re a great singer?
A: I think it is easier to play Sally if you’re less concerned with your sound and more concerned with acting through the song–something I have struggled with in the past. I was initially concerned the production team might want me to just intentionally sing badly through the whole show, but that wasn’t the case. It was more about finding the freedom to be okay with not sounding technically pretty, but effectively communicating Sally’s emotions through song. So, there are times in the show when I’ve found it the most honest to really sing out, and other times where it feels more genuine to not be concerned with being in tune because of Sally’s deteriorating mental state–but ultimately the acting comes first. It’s really freeing, and has helped me grow as an actor and a singer.
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Q: Let’s talk about the Emcee. The character is played by Abigail Nolte. How does this gender-bending casting impact the show? What is it like to interact with Nolte?
A: I think Abigail really brings something fresh and exciting to this show. Having a more feminine and even androgynous presence in the role adds some different shades to the piece that I think people will enjoy, and has definitely influenced the rest of us in the cast. She’s got this sort of ethereal, almost otherworldly aura about her onstage which heightens the Emcee’s omniscience through all that goes on in the show. I think she also brings a lot of empathy and surprising vulnerability to the character.
Q: You’ve played a lot of leading roles. What’s the biggest challenge with this one?
This is by far the most challenging role I’ve ever played, and definitely the most rewarding. I think just the overall physical demands (in Act I it feels like I sing four big numbers without even stopping to breathe) on top of the emotional process have been the toughest. By the end, I’m exhausted both physically and mentally. Especially with the emotional journey Sally takes, it’s been an interesting time to process some parallels with my personal life and really flesh that out onstage.