Debra Dobkin CoS Art

Art: Debra Dobkin

OCTOBER 26-28, 2012



Photos: ©Annaliese Moyer 2012


Created by Richard Thompson
Words and Music by Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson
vocals, guitar

Harry Shearer
vocals, narration

Danny Thompson
double bass

Judith Owen

Debra Dobkin
percussion, vocals

Peter Zorn
vocals, flute, saxophone

Peter Askim

The Symbiosis Ensemble
Armen Derkevorkian - violin I
Kathleen Mangusing - violin I
Mishkar Nunez - violin I
Dimitry Olevsky - violin II
Alex Russell - violin II
Maia Zander - violin II
Ignacio Cuello - viola
Sixto Franco Chordo - viola
Bryan Gonzalez - viola
Joo Lee - cello
Yoshi Masuda - cello
Maksim Velichkin - cello

Nancy Covey, Ken Levitan & John Ingrassia - producers
Keythe Farley - director
Simon Tassano - Sound design and audio mix
Kevin Bailey - production manager
John Burton - puppeteer
Adam Jefferis, Brownie Sibrian,
Hannah Chodos, April Fitzsimmons - puppeteers
Ann Closs-Farley - costume designer
Francois-Pierre Coture - lighting designer
Haylee McFarland, Catherine Alfonso,
Lexx Staats - hair & make-up
Bobby Eichorn - instrument technician
Sam Epstein - videographer, associate producer
Nicole Ross - stage manager
Dance by Invertigo Dance Theatre
Laura Karlin - choreographer
Carole Biers, Jodie Mashburn - dancers
Edmond Deraedt - slide/projection design

Media Sponsor: KCRW 89.9
CoS generously underwritten by Bill and Laurie Benenson

ABOUT CABARET OF SOULS: This piece began life as a commission for the International Society of Bassists to write something featuring the double bass. I managed to forget that they asked for a running time of 6 minutes! Being a songwriter, the beast naturally enough, grew into a song cycle, and then into something with elements of theater, which is how it is now presented, not quite a song cycle, an opera, a musical, a musical play or a bass concerto. A folk oratorio? A folkatorio? Perhaps better left unlabelled. My deepest thanks to Madeleine Crouch and Peter Askim for their guidance and enthusiasm, and to all the musicians and performers taking part. - Richard Thompson



The Audience seems to have passed from life into death and find themselves at a reception for the freshly deceased. The Keeper of the Underwold likes to welcome the new intake with some entertainment so he drags reluctant souls out of the darkness to sing. After each song, the Keeper and his Assistants sing their own short song of contempt for human foibles. As the humans long for the sweetness of life, the jaded Keepers contemplate torture as a better way of passing time.

The scene is the Underworld: a drab, cold, colorless place where souls gather, waiting out eternity. The Underworld is run by The Keeper, a jaded and rather cruel administrator, and his mischievous and cynical assistants, Grympale and Malpensio. The audience has slipped from life into death; and seem to be the Underworld's fresh intake of souls.

Greetings Mortals! So subtle is the transition from life into death that you may still be dreaming that life goes on - but I must sadly inform you that you are dead, and have crossed over into the Underworld. Welcome to our reception area. To get you all relaxed, we like to start with a little entertainment, and we'll be asking - well, insisting - that some of our residents provide some musical diversion. My assistants, Grympale and Malpensio, and myself may even chip in with a few musical observations!! After the music, we'll divide you into groups for Afterlife Orientation, and then you'll move on to Secondary Interrogation and - well - Eternity! Relax, enjoy. - The Keeper


Prelude - The cold and grey of the Underworld.

Overture - Frantic and deranged circus-like music greets the new arrivals.

Song of The Keepers - The Keepers explain the predicament of the audience, being newly dead. They explain their function, and how boring their job is. They introduce the entertainment.

Whipping On - Reluctant mortals are dragged and whipped onto the stage. They appear in a dazed, dreamlike state and only come to life when they sing, touching the memory of their lives.

The Linnet - (the pathetically lovelorn)

I Really Do Love A Waltz - (the Keeper's reply)

I Must Lie Down - (the glutton)

Gluttony Considered - (the Keepers)

Clive Smythe - (the art critic)

The Critic Critiqued - (the Keepers)

I Get Younger - (a cosmetic surgery addict)

The Parchment Grows Thin - (the Keepers)

Auldie Riggs - (the unrepentant murderer)

Auldie Riggs' Dance - (his dance of celebration)

Mr. Riggs Appreciated - (the Keepers)

Her Eyes not Mine - (the jealous suitor)

From The Inside Out - (the Keepers)

Breaking Down the Walls - (the war financier)

Will You Wash Away The Blood - (the Keepers)

My Dave - (the gangster's moll)

The Gangster's Moll - (the Keepers)

Run Judas Run - (the disappointed fan)
Times Gonna Break You* - (wishing ill on others)
*London Meltdown & International Society of Bassists

It Came With A Whisper - (the Keepers)

I Want The World - (the ambitious entertainer)

She Had It All - (the Keepers)

Bosom Of The Lord - (the religious hypocrite)

Hot Place For Hypocrites - (the Keepers)

One More Breath - The harmonizing humans would give anything for another taste of life. The Keepers remind them of the hopelessness of their situation.

The Keeper Regrets And Reflects - Unimpressed with the entertainment and humanity in general, the Keeper thinks torture might be a better way to pass the time.

Whipping Off - The souls are dragged back into the darkness.




Brilliant! Bravissimo!

Congratulations on the wildly successful and astoundingly impressive completion of an unprecedented 3-night run at the Broad Stage! 




What was your immediate take-away from the Broad performances, your thoughts, impressions?


RT: I thought this was a much more completely realized performance of the piece, and the elements we brought in helped to resolve many of the inherent dramatic problems.


And of your musical cast? (Harry, Danny, Judith, Debra, Pete, Peter, The Symbiosis Ensemble). Is it true that Danny Thompson and Pete Zorn were flown in from UK just for these three performances?


Everyone performed so well without exception. Yes, we did fly in Pete and Danny for these shows.


Please speak about the new additions to the ever-evolving CoS stage performance. (Invertigo Dance Theater Dancers, John Burton's Puppets & Puppeteers)

How were they chosen?

Which of their portrayals did you find most touching, witty or convincing? (Glutton and Preacher Puppet, Widow's Tears with Candles, One More Breath Souls in Closing Lament)


We took the step of hiring Keythe Farley as Director, and he suggested bringing in the puppets and dancers as the most economical and practical way of adding drama to the show. These were all people that Keythe knew and had worked with before. We figured that Judith can act, and inhabit the characters in the songs she sings. Likewise Harry can move around and be The Keeper. I, on the other hand, can't act, and am chained to the guitar for most songs, so the added elements would help to act out whichever songs I'm singing. I had to trust Keythe on these, because I wasn't around to watch things develop. I'm delighted at the way it turned out.


Please be aware that I've never seen the show from the front! I could get most of the idea of the puppets from the back of the stage, but I'm judging their success more from the audience reaction. When the video is done, I'll see the whole picture. I thought the dancing, which I could see, was fantastic.


How much time was required to collate the elements together? How lengthy was the rehearsal process?


All the elements had to be rehearsed separately. We only came together the evening before, and then the dress rehearsal on the afternoon of the first show.


The expanded production of the Broad Stage performances meant you did not have to make quick on-stage, costume changes while also playing guitar.  With the dancers and puppeteers becoming the main portrayers of your character's roles (exception Clive Smythe), how did you feel about relinquishing your lead actor position to becoming voice and melody only?


I think for this piece to have a life as some kind of drama, it needs to move in this direction, and I'm very happy to present songs in this way - whatever it takes.


Your portrayal of Clive Smythe was phenomenal. You are a natural born actor! You seem to be quite comfortable performing in character. Do you have any theatrical training? Is this a direction you would like to further pursue?


This is more melodrama than acting, i.e. very over the top. I've never acted in my life - well, once in the school play, aged 9. I received a few tips from our Director, which helped me to control my movements, but I think I'm doing it by default - I can't see anyone else around to do this role. Pursue? I don't think so.


Did you enjoy being costumed and cosmetically made-up? How long did it take the eyeliner to wear off?


How do you girls do it? The eyeliner took about 2 days to come off. I kept getting calls from Greenday. All part of the job! It's fun to dress up as someone else, as everyone out at Halloween knows. Will I ever be me again?


Getting back to the core of Cabaret of Souls, please can you explain how this idea popped into your brain when commissioned to write a 6-minute, double bass work featuring Danny Thompson?


I wanted to do justice to Danny's many-faceted skills, so I started writing songs that would show his many sides - jazz, folk, classical, etc. I then thought, 'Gosh! This is hard work. I need some pieces in between where he can take a breather, at which point it had to take a shape and have a theme, and suddenly it was 80 minutes.


Why did you choose to illustrate the imagined folly of an Underworld talent show? How did you come to select these particular human foibles for character development?
(The Lovelorn, Glutton, Art Critic, Cosmetic Surgery Addict, Unrepentant Murderer, Jealous Suitor, War Financier, Gangster's Moll, Disappointed Fan, Ambitious Entertainer and Religious Hypocrite


Well, I wasn't ticking off the seven deadly sins, although there are a few in there. I was trying to find characters that were funny, flawed or dark - if possible, all three - to make a point or two about life, which I'll get to in the next question.


How much of the subject material is tongue-in-cheek or are you projecting a personal commentary on the human condition? In your opinion is Man basically good or is Man basically evil? Is there any hope for Mankind, a silver lining?


This poses as a morality play, for the purpose of emphasizing the precious nature of life, and the uniqueness of humanity. The Keeper plays at judging people, but he has no real power. He is utterly jaded with humanity, and hates every performance by the humans, and he and the other keepers mock and parody. Their comments are so negative that we look for the redeeming features of the human characters, however flawed. The humans would do anything for one more breath of life. I think the whole idea for this piece came from a few lines in the Odyssey. Odysseus visits the underworld to consult the Oracle, and comes upon Achilles. He says,"Achilles, surely you are the king of mortals here?" And Achilles replies, "I would rather be the lowest servant in a poor man's house, than a king in the land of the dead."


Would you be willing to say if any of the featured songs are loosely based on real people? The gangster moll in 'My Dave' comes to mind. Are there others?


'My Dave' is loosely based on a British actress called Barbara Windsor, who was in most of the Carry On films - about four feet six with huge breasts - and she married a gangster. I won't tell you who Clive Smythe is based on! Others are just fictional. The corrupt religious figure in 'Bosom Of The Lord' encompasses child-molesting priests and debauched TV evangelists, among other things.


The Royce Hall performance and the new CoS CD feature 'Run Judas Run' as a replacement for 'Time's Gonna Break You'. Please could you elaborate on your decision to swap these two songs?


'Time's Gonna Break You' is in march tempo, and I have a song yet to be included that Judith will sing, which is also a march, so it had to make way 'Run Judas' is also more of a string feature, which the show needs at that point, and I think a better song.


Are there any other musical or lyrical changes you've made since the Royce Hall performance?


Small musical things, and a lot of lyrical changes to Harry's part, generally to make him more mocking, and less judgmental.


While the performances are an amazing spectacle to view, the music stands on it's own and is quite captivating and moving. Please tell us about all the different styles of music contained within the CoS score. (Heard are elements of gypsy jazz, Moroccan motifs, orchestral symphonies, classic jazz, folk, jigs and reels, circus parades, ballads, Spielberg soundtracks, hallucinatory ensembles and even the quasi-squeals of Hitchcock's 'Psycho'!)


I wouldn't be able to define all the categories, and anyway, it's all supposed to sound of a piece, but I'll mention some influences:


Overture - rather Bartok, with a British folkie twist.

Whipping On - touch of Shostakovich, and the Psycho bit probably comes from the same source as Bernard Hermann's score - Ravel's String Quartet in F

The Linnet - Elgar in the strings

I Must Lie Down - very Gilbert and Sullivan

Clive Smythe - Schoenberg and Stravinsky probably the main influences

I Get Younger - Um Kalthum-style strings over Motown

Auldie Riggs - English folk

Her Eyes Not Mine - more Elgar

Breaking Down The Walls - more Egyptian strings

Will You Wash - very Scottish

My Dave - Nelson Riddle

I Want The World - ditto

One More Breath - some of the vocal fugues of Mozart and Verdi


Are there future plans to release a video of the performance?
An additional audio recording?


RT: We have a recording, intended for promotional purposes. If it looks and sounds great, we'd consider doing something else with it, I'm sure.


How was the Opening Night Masquerade Party?


Fun. Nice to see people looking even stranger than the cast!


And Saturday night's After-Show Q&A?


It was part-cast, just 30 minutes of questions about the production. I learned a few things.


What will the next generation of CoS include? Do you plan to keep dance and puppets as part of the storytelling or do you foresee some sort of further metamorphosis? Additional visual projections?


I think the additions worked so well, and I'd hate to go backwards. There is more music to be added, probably the next time we do it. I'm sure it will be tweaked a little further, but I like the general shape of it.


Are you pursuing extended runs of Cabaret of Souls elsewhere?

Are you pursuing underwriters? Donors? Perhaps your audience can be donating patrons to further allow this work to evolve?


Yes to all! We have people interested in staging it in various cities. It is an expensive show, and needs funding from somewhere - the venue, corporate sponsors, or individuals. We had some wonderful donors for the Penn State show, and this show - we may have to come begging again.


The Cabaret of Souls CD is available for purchase at performances and through the website. Please tell us about this CD recorded with David Piltch and the Idyllwild kids. Is this a studio recording or captured live from the Royce Hall performance?


Our recorders broke down at Royce Hall, and I was determined to get a recording of the piece, so we did rhythm tracks and strings at Idyllwild, and added vocals anywhere we could grab the singers - mostly LA and London. I think it's a fine recording, and represents the show well.


Are there any plans to publish the lyrics on Beesweb?


The libretto can be found on our Cabaret of Souls album listing: Beesweb Songomatic.





'CoS' 2010 WRAP-UP



'Cabaret of Souls' isn't that extreme - these characters are flawed but lovable. - RT Richard Thompson, friends return to "Cabaret of Souls", Pop & Hiss, L.A. Times

It's sort of a dark comedy. Supposed to be funny and supposed to be dark. - RT Death is a cabaret, ol' chum, 89.3 KPCC

"Cabaret of Souls was funny, musically adventurous and at times, perhaps in spite of itself, genuinely moving. Richard Thompson continues to confound us." Richard Thompson's "Cabaret of Souls", The Misread City




Soundscape created by Simon Tassano