By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
In the early 1930s, an American writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Jonathan Norwood), moves to the decadent, free-wheeling city of Berlin to write a novel, just as the Nazi’s rise to power in the iconic Kander and Ebb musical, “Cabaret.”
On the train into town, Cliff meets Ernst Ludwig (Trevor Clarida) who regales him with tales of Berlin’s salacious pleasures. Ludwig finds him a place to stay and becomes his first pupil (Cliff tutors English to supplement his income). Ludwig also tells him about a low-down, libidinous little nightclub where he can “unwind.”
After settling into his apartment, Cliff takes off for the carnal carnival known as the Kit Kat Club… where anything goes.
The Emcee (Zach Herman – alternately played Ramsey Pack) introduces the cabaret boys and girls (the ensemble featuring Daniel Neale, Ben Cherington, Allison Ferebee, Georgia Mendes et al.) and the Kit Kat Club’s star performer, Sally Bowles (Safiya Harris – alternately played by Caroline Mixon).
Sally is fascinated by Cliff. She has high hopes for their relationship, even though Cliff shares a romantic past with a decidedly different member of the Kit Kat Club’s staff.
Backstory: Bobby (Daniel Neale), one of the male dancers, had a romantic liaison in London with our hapless hero.
On his way backstage to meet up with the boy, Cliff runs into the girl. The misinterpretation leads to complications. When the club owner Max (Dylan T. Jackson) fires Sally, she runs off to meet with Cliff and finagles her way into his apartment. Sally becomes his roommate – – with benefits.
Meanwhile, Fraulein Schneider (Gena Sims), Cliff’s landlady, falls for Herr Schultz (Patrick V. Davis), a Jewish fruit vendor. Unfortunately, many of Fraulein Schneider’s friends are in the Nazi party, complicating her relationship unnecessarily.
In the next apartment over, Sally is pregnant, and Cliff discovers he could be the father of Sally’s baby (though they’d be quite a few contestants on that Jerry Springer episode). If Facebook existed in the 30s, Cliff and Sally’s relationship status would definitely be “it’s complicated.”
The apartment building has one other notorious tenant, Fraulein Kost (Cate Hayman), who is turning tricks in her abode, but the good times are coming to a screeching halt as the Nazi’s goosestep into town.
Spoiler: This musical does not have a happy ending.
Harris is luminous as Sally Bowles. She takes over every moment she’s on stage. Then, when she belts out the titular number “Cabaret,” it’s a showstopper. Her voice is powerful.
Herman’s Emcee is equally engaging. He exudes a sexy magnetism. He plays off the audience’s energy superbly, ribbing and needling the front row with a sly wink and a wry smile.
Norwood is an attractive lead who manages to get his character’s conflicted subtext perfectly.
Then, there’s Fraulein Schneider.
Personal pet peeve: There’s always this weird thing that happens when young actors play old people. They almost always hunch over like Quasimodo and wag their fingers excessively. They almost always look grumpy as if about to say, “Hey you kids, get off my lawn.”
Sims, however, nails it. It’s a beautifully nuanced portrayal. Plus, the woman can sing her heart out. She is brilliant throughout the show. You would not expect a woman to sing about a pineapple with such exuberance…but you can catch Sims doing it.
“Cabaret” captures the public zeitgeist in turbulent times. Director Tome Cousin does a fantastic job reminding us that art can propel us forward. Whenever you shine a light, the cockroaches scurry.
Cousin was the choreographer as well, and the dancing is kinetic and frentic. There are some lovely transitions with graceful movements to catch your eye between scenes. He also has the performers doing some audience work at the top of act one and act two. Its beautifully done.
This “Cabaret” has everything, including lusciously decadent costumes by Jake Poser (though there are a few wardrobe malfunctions on preview night, they didn’t hinder the production one iota).
Beautiful moody lighting from Alex Gibson and excellent sound design by Scott McDonald on a whimiscal set designed by Jamie Phanekham.
“Cabaret” is a perfectly marvelous show.
If you’re looking for tickets, the entire run is completely sold out, but if you want to know more about the show, click here.