A Dancer Returns To The Midwest To Perform In “Cabaret” At St. Louis’ Fabulous Fox Theatre

 In Culture, Feature

Chris Kotera says people from the Midwest are big dreamers.

That may be one reason why there are so many Midwesterners in New York City like him, a native of Shawnee, Kansas—part of the Kansas City metropolitan area—who plunged into theater and performing arts. “We’re honest and hard-working,” he says. “But because we grow up so far from New York and Los Angeles, it all seems like a fantasy-land dream. That almost makes you dream bigger than normal.”

At the age of 29, Kotera is touring his way across the U.S. for the prestigious Roundabout Theatre Company and its new road version of “Cabaret,” the musical of bawdy song and dance by Kander & Ebb. Though 50 years old, it still manages to elicit shock and awe. The show comes St. Louis, in all its enthralling tawdry, March 7-19, 2017 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre.

Kotera was last seen at the Fox in “Evita,” and at Stages St. Louis, in Kirkwood, MO, in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Anything Goes.” He’s a “swing” in this latest visit, able to step-in to multiple roles, and the understudy for the now-legendary role of the Emcee at Berlin’s seedy Kit Kat Club.

This new version of “Cabaret” grew out of a Broadway revival with Alan Cummings and Jane (“Absolutely Fabulous”) Horrocks, directed by Sam Mendes in 1993. The performers on stage also played their own musical instruments, and may have been the first Broadway show to do so, long before John Doyle’s revivals of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” in 2005 and “Company” in 2006.

While Cabaret is set in pre-World War II Germany, Kotera draws connections between the story and the present cultural climate. “I feel like ‘Cabaret’ is incredibly relevant. Across the globe, there’s never been more criticism of our western globalized movement. When you hear these characters speak, you hear lot of the same language you hear today from politicians and citizens.” But it’s a dark path these characters tread, from the freedoms of the Weimar Republic to the rise of Adolph Hitler.

It almost seems like the culmination of a life’s work for Chris Kotera. “I’ve trained at so many different places, and in so many different fields. And I’m using all those in this production.” His mother, a music teacher, started him on violin lessons at a young age, planting the seed for what was to come. And though he felt well-prepared to take on the world, Kotera wanted to stay in the Midwest. After visiting different campuses and auditioning for college programs, his stage training took him to the laser-focused musical theater program at Oklahoma University, about 360 miles from his home in Kansas.

“There was an explosion of arts programs right before I went to college. I auditioned for as many as I could,” he says. His path to a big touring show with a prestigious production company followed a modern route, thanks in part to his Midwestern connections:

“I really did just show up in New York City. I already had a great support system in there from friends and colleagues from school and home, and I knew what I was supposed to do. It was exciting and adventurous, instead of scary.” If anything goes awry on stage at the Fox, or if he is called upon to fill the role of the Emcee, his comedy training will also serve him well. While in New York, he also studied at New York’s biggest improv school, The Upright Citizens Brigade.

Kotera is also enthused that his mother will finally see him in this high-quality “Cabaret” during its Fox run in St. Louis. Is he worried about what she’ll think about her son’s role in a show famous for its debauchery? “No, I just told her to keep an open mind. I think she’s going to like it!”

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