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Original Musical Production Brings the Spirit of the Cabaret to Campus

The cast of
The cast of "Black Cat Cabaret" served up a spectacle of song, dance, poetry and art. | Photo: Ian Billings

Cal Poly audiences were given a taste of true devotion to art, dancing, singing, poetry and spectacle with the Theatre & Dance Department’s original spring show, “Black Cat Cabaret.” The cabaret review transported viewers back in time to a world of Parisian artistic sensibility and dreamy glamour, but with modern twists.

Christy McNeil wrote, choreographed and directed 'Black Cat Cabaret.'
Christy McNeil wrote, choreographed and directed
"Black Cat Cabaret." | Photo: Ian Billings

Written, choreographed and directed by assistant professor of dance Christy McNeil, “Black Cat Cabaret” explored the complexity and flexibility of love. The show followed various characters as they sought love and learned about themselves in the process, all while building connections with one another.

Set to a soundtrack of music ranging from the 1980s to contemporary hits, the show took its cue from the 1881 Paris cabaret Le Chat Noir — a place where people, regardless of position, gathered to celebrate art for art’s sake.

“The Le Chat Noir was a place where high society and low society could come together and co-mingle, take off their hats, and not have rank. There was a love of more than the normal — the desire to explore beyond the everyday life,” McNeil said.

McNeil’s show fully embodied the spirit of the Le Chat Noir, uniting students from different majors in a collaborative effort.

“Last spring I was approached by the department to create a production that would bridge the theatre and dance programs a little more,” McNeil said. “I believe I can say this has never happened before, where they’ve brought the two programs together.”

The show’s cast of characters included romantic jugglers; shy storytellers; energetic dancers, poets and artists; and a drag queen hostess who lives for the spotlight. In the intimate space of the cabaret, characters showed off their talents, in turn seeking feedback, entertainment and an audience.

The production had no shortage of sequins, glitter and light spectacles. Yet audiences experienced an intimacy with the characters as each revealed their desires, or fears, of being loved.

“The show was historical and contemporary, with great influences by ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Moulin Rouge.’ I’m a huge Baz Luhrmann fan — of the spectacle he creates, the color, the fast-moving plots, and the great dance numbers,” McNeil said.

Black Cat Cabaret was a lush production which drew inspiration from filmmaker, Baz Lurman
"Black Cat Cabaret" took influences from Baz Luhrman's films,
like "The Great Gatsby" and "Moulin Rouge." | Photo: Ian Billings

“I wanted to have this quality of spectacle; I wanted audiences to be entertained. But yet there was the possibility for your heart to be touched. It might even have questioned your thoughts toward love due to the many representations of it. 

The show’s greatest strength lay in its mixture of opposites — the blend of spectacle and the reality of love’s complexity, at once over-the-top and serious.

“A lot of people think that art and entertainment can’t go together. I’m hoping that this show succeeded at both. I hope audiences walked out energized and maybe with the desire to explore some performance avenues themselves,” McNeil said.

“If I have inspired someone, that would be amazing.”

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