To say that MBS Performing Arts faculty member Jim Ruttman is involved with this year’s Upper School musical, Cabaret, is an understatement. Ruttman, a former Broadway performer, is not only directing and choreographing this year’s show, but he designed the set and built it with help from his Stagecraft class.
Instead of being exhausted from wearing so many hats, however, Ruttman says that his many roles have helped him develop a cohesive vision for the show.
“It makes it much easier from a creative standpoint. Wearing all three hats allows me to create the physical world of the show. I know every inch of the set, and stage the show with that in mind, using the space to the fullest," he said. "All of the different aspects of the show inform each other, so it makes for seamless transitions between scenes and dance numbers. It helps me as a director and choreographer that I know the set like the back of my hand."
Staging a musical is where Ruttman says he feels most at home — not surprising since he has been performing from a young age and went directly from high school to dancing in the national tour of Barnum. He went on to play Bobby in the national tour of A Chorus Line (later performing in the show's record-breaking 3,389th Broadway performance), and was in the Broadway cast of Cats, Damn Yankees, and Side Show, as well as eight years in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Other acting credits include the films Tap with Gregory Hines, and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun with Sarah Jessica Parker, recurring appearances on All My Children, and a role on the NBC drama Father Dowling Mysteries starring Tom Bosley. He even appeared as David Letterman's stunt double on an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman!
Since coming to Morristown-Beard School 13 years ago, Ruttman’s teaching style has been based on the belief that the performing arts are open to anyone who is willing to put in the energy and time. He said that he has been extremely pleased with the dedication that the cast and crew have shown with this production. “I think that the students feel the gravity and importance of the story,” he said. “That makes them commit to it on a whole different level.”
Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, Cabaret focuses on the nightlife at the free-spirited Kit Kat Klub. The plot revolves around the journey of a young American writer, Cliff Bradshaw, who witnesses the changing landscape of pre-war Berlin first-hand, as characters must decide whether life is simply a cabaret or on the verge of something more sinister and disturbing.
To create the mood of 1930s Germany, Ruttman is again working with his Performing Arts Department colleagues Ben Krauss (Music Director) and Nicholas Marmo (Technical Director), in addition to music teacher Dr. John Girvin. “John Girvin worked with the students on their German accents and it’s made a real difference,” said Ruttman. “He’s also learned to play the accordion for the show.”
Ruttman said that he is encouraged by the way the show is coming together — rehearsals have been running smoothly with minimal issues. “As Ben Krauss always says, ‘If the process is right, then the product will be right.’ That’s what is coming to fruition with Cabaret,” said Ruttman. “I’m very excited about the show.”
Ultimately, Ruttman would like the audience to leave the theater feeling entertained, but also reflect on the show’s important messages. “Telling stories to keep history alive and to keep terrible events from happening again is very important. Cabaret shows you the danger of apathy and denial in some characters. I hope that the show will also instill a sense of hope. With the reminder can come vigilance,” said Ruttman. “I’d like the show to start a dialogue and spur conversation. That’s what good art should do; that’s how our opinions and sense of the world evolve.”