"Cabaret"

Tonya Stoutt-Brown rehearses a comedy routine as Minnie Pearl for the Foothills Community Players production of “Cabaret,” taking place Friday and Saturday at The Bird and the Book in Maryville.

Blink and you might miss it, in which case you’ll show up to Maryville’s The Bird and the Book this weekend expecting to see the Foothills Community Players present a production of “Cabaret.”

“Cabaret,” incidentally, is a Broadway musical that debuted in 1966, detailing a couple of star-crossed love stories set in and around a Berlin nightclub during the rise of Nazism. The local poster makes it clear, however, that the FCP performances, which take place Friday and Saturday, are not related.

Oh, there will be music, director Allison Parton told The Daily Times recently. But there also will be much more, because the Blount County-based theatrical troupe is calling its show “Cabaret” as a direct reflection of the original definition: “a form of theatrical entertainment featuring music, song, dance, recitation or drama,” usually provided for patrons that are dining and drinking while the entertainment takes place on stage.

“With COVID, even though the numbers are lowering, we still had concerns, and the health and safety of our performers and the audience isn’t something we take lightly,” Parton said. “Because each part of the cabaret features only one or two actors rather than a 30-person unmasked cast, it allows for better social distancing in rehearsals and in the performances, and that allows us to be safer as we move back to live theater instead of having a big show where the cast had to be in close proximity.”

After canceling the 2020 season due to COVID-19, the organization put together two live broadcast radio-style shows earlier this year — “The Most Dangerous Game” in June, and “The Time Machine” in September — but “Cabaret” (footnote: “but not the musical”) is the first time FCP actors have been on a stage since the November 2019 production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

For Parton, who graduated from Maryville College in 2020 and now works as an events coordinator at the Clayton Center for the Arts, theater staged for a live audience has been a long time coming. COVID wrecked her senior year and the opportunity for Maryville College Theatre studies majors to perform on stage, and while she won’t be a part of “Cabaret,” her role as a director is rewarding in its own way, she said.

“I feel much more like a facilitator than a director, like a slightly more knowledgeable audience member,” she said. “I’m the person who helps give guidance, because most people have rehearsed their pieces on their own, and I was the person they checked in with. My role was to watch what they do objectively and give some feedback to help make their pieces better.”

“Cabaret” will feature a variety of works, from puppetry by Nicci Grigsby and Matt Pennington to comedy by Tonya Stoutt-Brown to a poetry reading by Christian Edington and Jamie Davis. Grigsby also will do some storytelling, and Pennington and Mike McMahan, along with Therese Cleary, will act out scenes from such works as “Of Mice and Men” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Music will be a big part of the program as well, with Victoria Goodlin, Christopher Wertz, Lisa Howard, Jeremy Joiner, Millie Rochelle, Hudson Perrine and Katie Conner all sharing various songs from a variety of genres.

“We just held open auditions and told everyone that we wanted to see scenes and monologues and any other skills,” Parton said. “We wanted to see it all, and they brought it all. We wanted to do something different and interesting, and everyone who auditioned was incredible, so of course we had to put them on stage.

“We have so many fantastic vocalists that if you come even for a few minutes, you’re going to hear a beautiful song. And because we’re doing it at The Bird and the Book, it’s a super relaxed setting, where the audience can get drinks and food and sit and just watch the talent. We like to tell people not to come with any expectations; just come ready to experience it all, because I promise, you’ll see something you didn’t expect.”

And if that’s not enough of an incentive, Parton added, the Foothills Community Players will announce the plans for the organization’s 2022 season during “Cabaret.” Although this is her first time in the director’s chair for the troupe — as unorthodox as it may be for a production with so many moving parts — it won’t be her last, and the opportunity to be a part of what comes next is as exciting as the chance to guide “Cabaret” into the home stretch, she said.

“I was an actor in one of their shows — ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’ — and I’ve always been an avid audience member,” she said. “I’ve never been in a more welcoming and enjoyable group of people to work with in community theater. Everyone involved is doing it for the love of theater, and I’m really happy to be a part of that.”

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years and continues to freelance about entertainment-related topics, local performances and East Tennessee artists. Contact him at wildsmithsteve@gmail.com.

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