Michael Wilkinson, left, and Kurtis D’Aoust in Royal City Musical Theatre’s Cabaret, which plays at Massey Theatre until April 29. (photo by Emily Cooper)
The musical Cabaret is a classic in the English-speaking world. Since its Broadway première in 1966, it’s been staged multiple times in many countries, and its acclaimed movie version of 1972 won eight Oscars. This April, Royal City Musical Theatre (RCMT) brings the show to New Westminster’s Massey Theatre.
“I saw the Cabaret movie many years ago, but it’s quite different from the stage musical, which I saw for the first time on Broadway in New York, starring Alan Cumming, in 2015,” actor Michael Wilkinson told the Independent. “The Broadway production was spectacular; not only is the show filled with great songs and dance numbers, but the various storylines were, and are, timely to current events that we’re seeing around the world today.”
With music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, the show is loosely based on the book Cabaret, written by Christopher Isherwood.
“Taking place in Berlin [in 1931] just before the Nazis came to power, Cabaret demonstrates how there was an increasing presence of far-right wing politics, which is not dissimilar to some of the political movements we’re seeing in the United States,” said Wilkinson, who is a member of the Jewish community. “It provides a stark reminder of how we need to stand up for those who are most vulnerable in society.”
In the RCMT production, Wilkinson plays Victor, one of the performers at the cabaret. Victor is a dancer, singer and waiter, Wilkinson explained. “As Victor, I spend most of the play singing and dancing in the ensemble numbers, as well as serving and fooling around with the patrons. It’s a fun role, and many dance numbers are very energetic.”
Unlike most members of the cast, Wilkinson doesn’t see his professional life revolving around theatre. “I actually am not studying acting,” he said. “I did study theatre for one year right after high school in New York at NYU. However, after an amazing year, I decided that theatre school was not for me, so I returned to Vancouver. I’m currently one year away from graduating with a bachelor of arts from UBC’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. I would love to work in arts marketing or management, but I am also very passionate about youth education.”
For him, theatre is a beloved hobby, although he did want to be an actor as a child. “I grew up taking theatre and music classes, which I loved. I went to the fine arts theatre program at Lord Byng Secondary School,” he said. “I participated in school plays. I also participated throughout high school in many community and professional theatre productions across the Lower Mainland. And I’ve continued to do so into adulthood. I love to do theatre in my spare time, and companies like RCMT provide a great opportunity for this.”
Being in a musical is ideal for the young performer.
“I started playing violin when I was 5 and I played oboe in my high school band, so music has always been a part of my life,” he said. “Musicals just seemed like a natural genre for me to fall into when I became interested in theatre. I love being in big musicals, like Cabaret. RCMT is a great company because they present big musicals every year, which is not something that every theatre company is able to do. This is my fourth show with RCMT. With them, I’ve had lots of fun in the smaller featured roles or as part of the ensemble.”
Over the past several years, Wilkinson has performed with many theatrical companies in Vancouver. In addition to RCMT, he has played in shows put on by Theatre Under the Stars, Awkward Stage Productions, Gateway Theatre, Bard on the Beach, and Footlight Theatre.
“Most of them have been non-paying [roles], which was fine growing up and going through high school,” he said. “I never expected to get paid at that age. However, this year, RCMT introduced an actor honoraria, which is very helpful to offset transportation costs. While this is certainly not the case for many other cast members, I’m not at a point where I’m looking to make a living from doing theatre. I have two other part-time jobs, my UBC classes and rehearsals, so [being in] shows that do not pay, or at least not very much, works for me.”
The timing of a show is more important to him than the financial side, because he has to juggle his schedule. This is why he doesn’t go to auditions very often. “I only audition for productions that I would really want to be in and that I know I can commit to, in terms of rehearsals and performance dates,” he said.
He enjoys everything involved in putting on a show. “I love the rehearsal process,” he said, “because it is so exciting to watch a production come to life with all its elements: music, choreography, scene work, props, costumes, sets and lights, and eventually the audience. It is also great to get to know a new group of actors as we come together to work on a production. The Vancouver theatre community is quite small, so there are usually some familiar faces, but every cast kind of becomes a family for the duration of a show – some of my best friends I’ve met through theatre. And, of course, performing the final product in front of the audience is always very exciting.”
Wilkinson is not sure yet what his future holds, or even where he will be after graduation. “I’ve lived in Vancouver my whole life, minus my one year in New York,” he said. “Vancouver is home, but if a really great job presented itself outside of Vancouver, I would never say no. I’m also interested in doing my master’s degree at some point, so that may involve a move, as well. I think it’s important to be happy in whatever we’re doing, so that’s how I try to guide my education, work and theatre to balance in my life.”
Cabaret opened at Massey Theatre April 12 and runs until April 29. For tickets and information, visit royalcitymusicaltheatre.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].