Cabaret is partly playful and over the top, and also somber and heart wrenching.
“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret.”
Cabaret, first performed on Broadway in 1966, is the risqué musical set in Berlin in 1931, and centered on a nightclub. But this musical is much more than a story involving sex, bustiers, and gin; it is about different kinds of love and relationships; the struggle of facing life alone; fear of change; discrimination; and the effects of the rise of the Nazi power in Germany.
The story essentially focuses on two relationships: that between Sally Bowles and Clifford Bradshaw; and Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. (In the interest of not spoiling the ending, I will only give insight into the development of the story).
Sally, a singer from England, and Clifford, an American writer who came to Berlin for inspiration, meet at the Kit Kat Klub where Sally performs. They establish a relationship after Sally moves into the room that Clifford is renting after her previous lover threw her out. She later discovers that she is pregnant. Though unsure of who the father is, Clifford encourages her to keep the baby, and suggests that the three of them become a family. In order to make more money for them, Clifford begins a business deal with Ernst Ludwig, in which Clifford travels to Paris to collect packages and bring them into Berlin. Clifford is distressed to later discover that the packages he has been delivering are to support the Nazi party.
Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz find romance later in life. Fraulein Schneider runs the boardinghouse where Clifford and Sally live; Herr Schultz owns a local market. After Fraulein Kost, one of Fraulein Schneider’s boarders, discovers Herr Schneider in the building late at night (after she had been reprimanded by Fraulein Schneider for having sailors in her room), Herr Schultz blurts out that they are engaged in order to protect Fraulien Schneider’s reputation. Though initially meant as a cover, he admits that he had considered proposing previously, and the two decide to wed. At their engagement party, Ernst Ludvig is informed that Herr Schultz is Jewish; Ernst, a Nazi, warns Fraulien Schneider against the marriage.
Generic Theater’s presentation of this musical is a solid one. The roles were very well cast. Though I was not expecting such a young actor for the role of the Emcee (who emcee’s the Kit Kat Klub numbers, and carries the audience through the story), high school senior Jacob George handled the part well with his strong vocals, and by bringing just the right amount of quirky eccentricity to the character.
The ensemble cast, which played dual roles as the Kit Kat Girls (both men and women dressed in bustiers, garters, and false eyelashes) and other various characters (Nazis, sailors, and more) performed wonderfully together. Their exuberant energy, and playful sauciness as the Kit Kat Girls was fantastic. I was especially impressed with how well their voices complemented each other in the ensemble numbers. Though the choreography has some great moments – appealing formations, the incorporation of audible stomps into the movements – I would love to have seen more intricate and challenging step combinations. The cast could have also performed the dances with a bit more of the sass and conviction that they put into the characters; the movements seemed careful and hesitant at times.
Abbey Ortiz (Sally Bowles) and Jimmy Dragas (Clifford Bradshaw) were very convincing in their roles. They connected with each other well, and had a genuine rapport. Abbey’s quick speech and flighty mannerisms were appropriate for Sally. Though the transitions into a few of the high notes could have been smoother, Abbey’s performance of the title song was sharp and strong. Jimmy’s portrayal of the introspective writer was fantastic; his careful and deliberate gestures were a great contrast to Sally’s erratic nature.
The highlight of the show for me was the interaction of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, played by Eileen Engel and Clifford Hoffman. The development of their sweet romance was wonderful, with palpable tenderness between them. Eileen wonderfully presented the transition of Fraulein Schneider’s character from pragmatic and pessimistic to gentle and almost flirtatious. Eileen and Clifford’s character portrayals and vocals meshed well throughout the show.
The set and lighting design presented the story excellently; in my previous experiences with Generic Theater productions, the action took place on the floor level. For Cabaret, the story takes place on an elevated stage, with the Kit Kat Klub stage in the center, Clifford’s room to the right, and the main area of the boardinghouse on the left. There was also a pole running from the stage to the ceiling, which the Emcee used to make a few dramatic entrances from above. This layout made the transitions from scene to scene very smooth, and the action onstage clearly visible to all. Lighting changes during one of the scenes showing the ominous Nazi presence actually took my breath away. I looked down to my program for just a moment, and when I looked up, the lights had dimmed and changed to red, and the ensemble were all standing with their arm in the Nazi salute … I literally stopped breathing. And the staging and lighting of the final scene of the show created tremendous intensity – that scene left me speechless.
Cabaret is partly playful and over the top, and also somber and heart wrenching. It shows the struggle that the characters have to maintain the lifestyle they know; their fear of change; their hesitance to hope or take a chance. It shows the crushing choices they make in a desperate attempt to believe that life can continue as it had – to believe that life really is a cabaret, with no cares or worries. When in reality, the world around them is crumbling.
Performances of Cabaret continue through May 13th; Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night shows are at 8pm, and the Sunday show is at 2:30pm. Click here for ticket information.
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