Williamstown Theatre Festival lets its hair down

WILLIAMSTOWN — Just because the curtains close at the '62 Center for Theatre and Dance does not mean the show is over! Over the course of three weekends every summer, many Williamstown Theatre Festival actors take their talents to a smaller, more intimate venue in town for the popular Late-Night Cabaret. The general public can spend an evening watching some of the world's most renowned actors and singers perform without the restrictions of scripts and choreography.

The Williamstown Theatre Festival Late-Night Cabaret was launched on July 4, 1973 at the 1896 House Pub with a revue titled "A Lotta Night Music." Four and a half decades later, the tradition remains a vital part of the festival, although not without a significant change. Originally a space for the Non-Equity actors and Apprentices to hone their craft, the Cabaret morphed into an alternate venue for stars and up-and-coming actors alike to both showcase their abilities and experiment with new acts. The non-Equity actors audition and are cast into the cabaret lineup whereas the veteran actors volunteer.

"The cabaret is a wonderful complement to our stages," said Williamstown Theatre Festival artistic director Mandy Greenfield. "The artists tend to do things they are not doing on stage. It promises the opportunity for the audience to enjoy up close the talents of the artists and a fun space for the artists to show off their talents."

Now in her third summer as the festival's artistic director, Greenfield added that the Late-Night Cabarets are relatively unscripted and include some audience interaction with the performers.

Unlike the productions on the Main Stage and Nikos Stage at the '62 Center for Theatre and Dance, the cabaret puts the audience and artists together in a more informal space not to mention the availability of food and drink. Over the years, the cabaret has been held at several different local venues, including The Williams Inn, The British Maid, and for the last several years, Goodrich Hall. Due to the ongoing renovation of Goodrich Hall, Greenfield moved the cabaret to The Log at the bottom of Spring Street for the 2017 summer season. As with past installations, this year's Late-Night Cabaret began July 13-15. It continues this weekend — Thursday through Saturday. The last cabaret is Aug. 10-12.

The artists generally perform a wide variety of acts, including show tunes, rock and roll hits, inventive takes on musical standards, and comedy routines. One can expect group numbers, solos, duets, and instrumental performances. The variety of the performances and informal nature of the nights appeals to the artists, who often use the Cabaret to step outside their comfort zone. Greenfield noted that some artists frequently try new things such as singing in front of an audience for the first time. Each cabaret features two hosts who introduce the acts and give the night flow and a sense of organization. But spontaneity is what ultimately makes the Cabaret an exhilarating experience for the performers and spectators alike.

"Each [cabaret] is more or less the same set, but there's always some level of improvisation and unexpected performances," remarked Greenfield. "There are always wonderful, wild surprises. The whole point is that every cabaret ends up being different from the next one."

Jane Kaczmarek and Tommy Sadoski hosted the July 13-15 cabaret, which was, according to Greenfield, a big success. Well-known actresses Becky Ann Baker and Jessica Hecht take over hosting duties this weekend.

Known for her roles as Jean Weir on NBC's Emmy Award-winning show "Freaks and Geeks" and Loreen Horvath on HBO's Emmy Award-winning show "Girls," Baker has appeared in numerous WTF shows over the years, including most recently in William Inge's "Off the Main Road" during the 2015 season. She also hosted the Late-Night Cabaret last summer.

Hecht has accumulated multiple Broadway roles throughout her career, and received a Tony Award nomination for her role in Arthur Miller's play, "A View From the Bridge." She has also made appearances in many films and TV shows, perhaps most famously as Gretchen Schwartz on AMC's popular drama, "Breaking Bad." In addition to hosting the theater festival's Late-Night Cabaret, Hecht is starring in "The Clean House," which ends its run on the Main Stage on Saturday

Ashley Austin Morris and Maurice Jones will host the cabaret in August. Morris appeared in last summer's WTF production of "Romance Novels for Dummies." Jones held a supporting role in this season's "The Model American." He plays a producer in "A Legendary Romance," which runs on the Main Stage Aug. 3-20.

Advance access to the highly sought cabaret tickets is given to those who donate at least $300 to the Williamstown Theatre Festival. The remaining tickets are put on sale one week prior to the performances. Tickets are $30 and must be purchased in advance on the WTF website or by calling the box office.


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