FreeFall Theatre's production of "Cabaret," the John Kander and Fred Ebb 1966 Broadway sensation, originally played for just one month — June 21-July 22. Overwhelmingly well received, the musical earned a second run and was added to the 2012-13 season.
So much goes into creating a show worthy of being called back by popular demand. Pick it apart, and you're still left with the inexplicable bits and pieces that thrilled audiences.
In freeFall's case, one thing is clear: their triumph was due in part to terrific casting.
David Mann was cast in both stagings as the Emcee, that elusive, opaque little fellow who seems to be everywhere at once. The definition of the man's character is blurred within the Kit Kat Klub's smoky insides and, later, in the smoldering mess of war-torn Berlin.
"You don't have any road map, based on what has been written, for who in the world he is," Mann said. "That's why interpretations have varied so widely. It's subject to interpretation because the playwrights didn't give anything."
Director Eric Davis interpreted the story as a memory in which Sally Bowles, the Kit Kat Klub dancers and everyone else parade like ghosts across the Emcee's brow. That vision signaled Mann to portray him with an air of bittersweet melancholy.
"I thought about the cabaret and the people in it as my family. That was key, because family is so important to me," Mann said.
Mann is the father of two and lives in Temple Terrace. He and his wife, Amanda Clark, teach at USF's School of Theatre and Dance, but his primary professional gig is as director of acting studies at Howard W. Blake High School of the Arts. Because of his busy teaching schedule and home life, he hadn't acted in years until "Cabaret."
Just as with the musical's characters, life took some unexpected turns for Mann.
If someone asked him 15 years ago where he was headed, he would have said the stage and the stage only.
"I said I would never teach. Teaching is failure. Teaching is where people go to die," Mann said.
Having parents who were interested in theater, the Indiana native grew up appreciating musicals and plays. The family traveled to New York City to see shows, and when they moved to Bogotá, Colombia, for his dad's work, Mann participated in community theater there. Seven years later, he found himself in a New Jersey high school for the performing arts.
His love for theater and acting carried him to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and the University of San Diego/Old Globe Theatres. While still on the acting-only track, he met his wife-to-be. Somewhere along the line, starting and supporting a family began to overpower his earlier ambitions.
Recently, he's come full circle and struck a balance between acting, teaching and spending time with his family.
"As time has gone on and I've gotten a little older, I'm starting to be the person that I remember so much when I was just starting out, who needs to lead in a kind of way and set the tone for situations, be it in a classroom or a theater," said Mann.
Accepting his second opportunity with freeFall required some readjustments, at home and on the stage. It's the same story and set, but now there's a new Sally in town (Jennifer Byrne takes over for Emilee Dupré).
"I've remounted shows before. In this case, it's strange because a lot of it is replacing Sally. I don't even interact with her that much. People talk about a connection between the Emcee and Sally, but it's not there except in passing mournful looks across the way. It's mostly about her getting in there with Jim Sorensen [Sally's love interest, Cliff] and putting that back together again," said Mann.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Thursday; through Sept. 30
Where: freeFall Theatre Company,
6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
Tickets: $37-$44; (727) 498-5205 or visit www.freefalltheatre.com