Barrett Wilbert Weed is currently portraying the role of Fraulein Sally Bowles at Signature Theatre in the landmark Kander/Ebb/Masteroff musical Cabaret. The production runs through June 28th. On Broadway Barrett was seen in the short lived Lysistrata Jones. As you will read, just because the show didn’t run for long does not mean that Barrett didn’t have a blast doing it Off-Braodway credits include at New World Stages: Bare (Nadia) and Heathers: The Musical (Veronica Sawyer) and at Atlantic Theater Company: Found (Denise). For her work on Heathers: The Musical Barrett received both a Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. She holds a BFA from Elon University.
Barrett has a daunting job with the role of Fraulein Sally Bowles because of the royalty that has portrayed her in the past. Of course you all know about Liza Minnelli’s Oscar winning performance in the film version but other such luminaries as Natasha Richardson and Dame Judi Dench have also portrayed what some may call one of the plum roles of the modern musical theatre. Barrett has her own ideas about Sally and I’m sure they do the character total justice. Signature Theatre is known for it’s musicals so there is no better place to see a classic like Cabaret performed. With a young talent like Barrett Wilbert Reed as one of it’s leads, all I can say is “Life is beautiful.”
How did you get interested in performing?
When I was really little, maybe three or four? Some of my friends were doing an after school “Children’s Opera” program. I begged my mom to let me join it and she caved. Technically, I didn’t meet the minimum age requirement so she had to lie. I think maybe you had to be five? I was so little that I wasn’t great at reading yet so my mom had to read me my lines so I could memorize them. The director gave us all little tapes with our songs recorded on them so we could practice. I still learn everything that way – by ear. My first part was a fairy in Sleeping Beauty. My great aunt made me a dress. I’m sure it was all absurdly cute.
Does Signature Theatre’s production of Cabaret go for a more traditional approach in terms of staging or is it more environmental like the version that played at Studio 54?
Matt has managed to make this performance completely intimate. We have most of the audience at Cabaret tables and we come out and play with people during the show. We also do every scene on a revolving circular thrust stage so everything can be seen on three sides instead of one. I keep referring to the floor space as the Splash Zone like at Blue Man Group…maybe we should give people ponchos as they’re coming in?
Many famous performers have played the role of Sally Bowles. Liza Minnelli in the film of course and Natasha Richardson on stage are probably two of the bigger names. Do you feel any pressure as an actress to match what others have done with this role while still being able to put your own spin on the character?
Well, first of all, I’m obsessed with Liza Minnelli. She is truly different and absolutely brilliant. She shines so brightly in everything she has ever done. She couldn’t be usual or commonplace if she were on salary to do so which is incredibly rare to find in our industry. As far as I’m concerned, no one else has ever played Sally Bowles. I remember seeing the film of Cabaret for the first time and thinking “Oh… There might be a place for a weirdo like me in theatre and film.” Maybe people actually want to see actresses who are highly unusual and a little bit odd and don’t have alien level good looks. Maybe. I’ve wanted to play this part since then. Sally is fantastically complicated.
The only pressure I feel is from myself to be sure I’m making her a real person. Too often I’ve seen her played like a cartoon or someone who is fairly unintelligent or even worse- completely selfish and untalented. I don’t think she’s any of those things. I think she’s a person and she has good reasons for all of the things she does. They might not make sense to other people but, she isn’t like other people. I actually hope I don’t match what anyone else has done with the role. I would be very unhappy with myself.
You were part of a short lived Broadway musical called Lysistrata Jones. Can you please tell us a little bit about the experience of working on it and do you think it was unfairly treated on Broadway?
Lyssie J! What fun we had. I adore Douglas Carter Beane and Lewis Flinn. They are wonderfully talented and kind. That team actually cast me from an EPA (it does happen sometimes!) much to my enormous surprise. I watched the show practically every night (I understudied all of the ladies in the show) and it was honestly always a chaotic, manic, spectacular blast. During previews Kim Jong Il died and I remember Doug ran backstage to find Patti Murin before the show so that she could replace one of her existing jokes with one about Kim Jong Il. Doug, completely on purpose, didn’t tell anyone else in the cast about the new joke which had something to do with a comparison between a part of the male anatomy and a dead body. It took the audience a second to register the joke and it took the cast a few seconds longer which culminated in about four seconds of total silence followed by the entire audience howling with laughter and groans and the entire cast fully breaking onstage. Everyone in the theater was bent over laughing and crying. It took everyone, cast and audience, ages to pull themselves together and it was absolutely one of the most magical Broadway moments I have ever seen. It’s true what they say about actors breaking during a scene- everyone wants to see it. Needless to say, the joke did not last past that performance and the whole cast came off from Act One crying with laughter and attempting to strangle Doug who had wisely left the building. As for the treatment of the show, I have learned that there are about a thousand factors that play a role in the longevity of a show. 500 of them fall into the money category and the rest are a complete mystery to me. I think it’s a miracle when small shows without movie stars make it to Broadway in the first place so I consider Lysistrata Jones an enormous success.
What is next for you after Cabaret closes?
A very long nap followed by at least two dry dirty martinis and some pasta. That’s what you meant, right?