Phoebe Gavula makes her professional debut in Cabaret at the Arden. An experienced and skilled dancer, Phoebe talks about making the leap into Musical Theatre.
You’ve been in several ballet productions, is Cabaret your first production of the Broadway-style and burlesque dancing?
Yes, and it’s completely different from anything I’ve ever done before. And I love it! Even from a purely choreographic standpoint, this show has been an incredible experience for a number of reasons. It’s not enough to learn and execute the choreography, you have to be completely comfortable in your body and confident in the movement in order for it be effective. While there are obvious differences between this style of movement and classical ballet, which is what I’m trained in, I think the biggest one is that this choreography is more about the feeling and the freedom of the movement as opposed to uniformity and exact execution of precise movements. Burlesque dancing is about owning your body and the space around it, and it’s really liberating and just fun.
You were in Hairspray, another iconic musical with a different style of dance! How has your dance experience in Hairspray helped your work in Cabaret?
Initially, it seems like Cabaret and Hairspray could not be more unalike. The difference in the vocabulary of movement of each show is so profound that it’s almost comical, but I’ve realized the shows actually have a bit more in common than I anticipated. Most obviously, both shows deal with prejudice and its effects within a community. My characters in both shows also perform mostly within the world of the play; Brenda in Hairspray is a dancer on a TV special, and Helga in Cabaret is a dancer at the Kit Kat Club. Both of my characters knew they were performing for an audience that existed inside the show. More importantly though, both shows explore the cathartic freedom of movement. They do so in very different ways, but Hairspray for the Nicest Kids is a lot about breaking out of expectations to find the pure joy of dancing, and Cabaret for the Kit Kats is about expression through raw, unapologetic movement.
This is your first professional show. Tell us about the excitement of your professional debut.
I could not be more excited to be performing in this show. This would have been a thrilling experience regardless of the show simply because everything in this process has been exciting and new and I’ve been going through it with the new knowledge that I am now a professional actor, but the fact that on top of all that the show is Cabaret has made it all the more exhilarating. And conversely, being in this show in any capacity is always something special, so being in it as a new professional (and at the Arden, no less) has been magical.
What do you love the most about Cabaret?
I love what this show accomplishes and tackles. It is profound and entertaining and terrible and fantastic, and I knew that a production of it at The Arden was something I wanted to at least try to be a part of. I think this work is incredibly effective, almost sneakily. Most of the first act is a bawdy, energetic, fantastic time and you fall in love with everyone, and then suddenly it’s not just a cabaret performance anymore, it’s a raw and heart wrenching story that is unfortunately extremely relevant.
Which part of the show are you most excited for audiences to see in the
I know I’m inside it so I’m a little biased, but it is truly difficult to pick just one part of the show that I’m most excited about. Getting to work with all of this talent from both the cast and the production and management teams has been such a wonderful experience for me and I’m absolutely thrilled for audiences to see what we have done with this work. Everyone has contributed to and is invested in every aspect of this production and I think this piece that we’ve created is just really good. Taking my bias a little further, I am absolutely in love with Jenn Rose’s choreography, and I’m excited for other people to experience it. I think she’s made a delightful mix of her own style and nods to the expected movement of the show, and we now have something exciting for both the audience and the ensemble.
What was the most challenging while preparing for this show?
In all honesty, I can’t really think of anything that was particularly challenging in this process. We spent a lot of time discussing the world the show is set in and what we wanted to accomplish and what life is like in the Kit Kat Club and in Germany at the time, but that wasn’t really a challenge as much as it was a constantly developing discussion. That’s not to say that this has been an easy process; we’ve definitely been working incredibly hard for the past month. I guess that, for me, preview week was rough because it was my first time experiencing anything like it. Rehearsing changes and tech and new choreography all day and then performing those changes (and trying to remember them all) was pretty tough, but I think that’s to be expected. Otherwise, there are just silly little things that aren’t easy, like maneuvering and breathing in a gorilla suit. But, to be completely honest, the hardest thing about this show for me was working with all of these incredibly talented people every day and maintaining some semblance of composure. I feel so lucky to be a part of this production, and it really has been exciting every day.
Do you prefer more modern dance shows like Cabaret and Hairspray or classical performances like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake
It’s so hard to compare the two different genres of work because they’re so incredibly different. I will always have a strong affinity for ballet, and works like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake and Giselle and Don Q will forever be extremely important to me. I’m really enjoying this new delight I’ve found in musical theater choreography. They’re just completely different animals and I truly cannot say which I prefer. This is probably a little cheesy, but I honestly just love dancing. I like finding the nuances of different classes of movement and the different ways the styles live in my body and the way they make sense with the music and the story they are telling.
Phoebe Gavula (Helga) Arden debut! Regional: Love and Information, Brenda in Hairspray (Temple University); Cygnet in Swan Lake, Columbine and Marzipan in The Nutcracker, Fairy and Lost Boy in Peter Pan, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Pennsylvania Ballet). Training: B.A. Musical Theatre, Temple University. Huge thanks to the Metropolitan crew, Tim Gallagher, Mom, Dad, Joe, Lily, Temple loves, and the Lizards.
Book by Joe Masteroff
Based on the play by John Van Druten and
Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Originally Co-directed and Choreographed by Rob Marshall and Directed by Sam Mendes
Directed by Matthew Decker
On the F. Otto Haas Stage
Now thru OCTOBER 22, 2017