When Assistant Professor of Dance Christy McNeil was asked to put together a production combining the triple threats of Cal Poly’s Theatre and Dance Department, she could have chosen simply to stage a preexisting book musical. That would have been the easy way out. Instead, she opted to create an original variety show in the spirit of Belle Époque Paris’s famed club Le Chat Noir, which pioneered the cabaret genre as we know it today. Rodolphe Salis established the original Le Chat Noir in 1881 in the ultra-bohemian Montmartre district, as McNeil explains in her director’s note in the program. That iconic Art Nouveau poster featuring the eponymous feline, which has graced so many college dorm room walls, will once again serve its original purpose of advertising an actual stage performance. The Theatre and Dance Department’s modern interpretation is Black Cat Cabaret, a rollicking ensemble show featuring the best and most diverse talents of the department’s performers.
McNeil calls Black Cat Cabaret a “show about love,” but don’t expect a medley of saccharine song stylings on this bawdy bill. The love here isn’t disingenuous, but it’s definitely the kind of love that toasts with wine and not grape juice. McNeil goes on in her director’s note to describe the original patron-performers of Le Chat Noir as “a group of artists and writers known as ‘Les Hydropathes,’ or those who are afraid of water, [who] created an atmosphere for those who also detested water—but only because they preferred a liquid that would inspire a bit more vivacity.”
More important to the show than its “intoxicating” ambience is its appropriately motley array of acts, such as “dancing, singing, guitar and ukulele playing, juggling, a drag queen who loves Hostess products, and a lot of spectacle and saturated color,” McNeil tells me. That sounds like a use of Twinkies even Michael Pollan would approve of.
Black Cat Cabaret runs for two weekends, May 8 through 10 and May 15 through 17 at 8 p.m., at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre. Tickets range from $12 to $20 and are available at pacslo.org or by calling 756-4849. The show runs 60 minutes without intermission and is not recommended for children under 13. Me-ow!