Backstage with ‘Spielpalast Cabaret’

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(Host) A night with Burlington’s “Spielpalast Cabaret” ensemble is not your typical evening at the theater. It’s more like stepping into a dark, back-alley club in 1930s Germany.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff goes “Backstage.”

(Emcee) “Welcome to Spielpalast! Damen und herren, madames and messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce you now to the ladies of cabaret Spielpalast….”

(Charnoff) One by one, the women take the stage, dressed in vintage lingerie, trading intentionally stale repartee with Max, the emcee. So begins an evening of burlesque, featuring a live on-stage orchestra, dance numbers, magic, political satire and what the group’s Web site describes as “avant-garde nonsense spectacle.”

Among the skits is this one, where two German spies meet in a dance class for a secret rendezvous.

(Excerpt of dialog.)

(Charnoff) The Spielpalast Cabaret was formed four years ago. According to co-creator Lois Trombley, part of the intent was to integrate talent from the Burlington visual and performing arts communities. Trombley, who is directing the current Spielpalast incarnation, says the anti-establishment politics of the show were born in a specific time and place.

(Trombley) “As far as the show is concerned, we’re drawing very strongly from the European cabaret movement of the 1920s and ’30s around the rise of fascism. We’re also making a lot of comparisons to that time and the present time and what’s going on right now in our country and all over the world.”

(Charnoff) The parallel, according to several cast members, is the appeal of subversive entertainment in a restrictive society. As for the cabaret’s name, Lois Trombley says the word “Spielpalast” reflects the group’s ultimate goal.

(Trombley) “We had to choose from a bunch of different names. We decided to go with a German name because we sort of felt that spielpalast exists not in any one place, but if it were to exist anywhere it’s in Weimar Berlin. So the word spielpalast means pleasure palace, or play palace. It also could mean a night of fun and games.”

(Charnoff) With its suggestive themes and innuendo, the Spielpalast Cabaret is PG-13 entertainment. But director Lois Trombley says the costumes haven’t become an issue for cast members.

(Trombley) “It’s very empowering for women to get up in front of an audience and express their own sexuality and sensuality and to do it in an empowered fashion. I don’t think there’s really anything more feminist or more strong than that, for a woman to express her opinion how she sees it and how she feels right to do it.”

(Charnoff) Emer Pond Feeney of Burlington plays one of the women of Spielpalast.

(Feeney) “Now because we’re a Berlin 1920s, early ’30s style cabaret, we’ve chosen to do this in early style lingerie, vintage style lingerie. When we put on these costumes, a lot of us suddenly step into characters that are lurking inside of us the rest of the time.”

(Charnoff) I spent a few moments with Feeney’s character.

(Feeney, in character) “Okay, my name’s Toni Richie and I’m the star of the show. I mean, I know everyone says that Victoria’s the star of the show but that’s incorrect. Really, I’m the star. And I think that everyone’s just going to have to admit that sooner or later.”
(Charnoff) “What makes you the star of the show?”
(Richie) “My talent. Clearly this is just one stop on the way to the top for me.”
(Charnoff) “Do you have a boyfriend?”
(Richie) “Honey, I have too many boyfriends to count.”

(Charnoff) True to its roots, a Spielpalast performance in Burlington has become an underground event, with word-of-mouth leading up to sold out shows. In May, Spielpalast will venture outside the city for the first time, a mini-tour that culminates with several Big Apple performances at the New York Burlesque Festival.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.

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Upcoming show dates:

  • April 29, 30 – Higher Ground, South Burlington (888) 512-SHOW
  • May 6 – Chandler Music Hall, Randolph (802) 728-6464
  • May 7 – Vergennes Opera House (802) 877-6737
  • May 13, 14 – The Church, Brattleboro (802) 365-9780
  • May 27- Higher Ground, South Burlington (888) 512-SHOW
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