Review of Cabaret
By Joe Masteroff
Music & Lyrics by John Kander & Fred Ebb
Directed by James Dunn
Musical Direction by Debra Chambliss
Choreography by Sandra Tanner
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross Valley Players
Tickets: $27, $16 under 24
RUN: September 21 – October 15, 2017
Extended through October 22
RATING: 4 of 5 stars
(September 22, 2017)
I find revival productions exciting when the audience is abuzz with discussion about its connection to current news, and although Cabaret has a lighthearted, sexy side to it, the prevailing topic that resulted was rather heavy. The story takes place in Berlin from 1929-1930; its festive atmosphere evaporates under the Nazi Party, and otherwise ordinary German citizens are drawn toward anti-Semitic values. It starts with small choices—blaming them for having too much wealth, of not being properly German, and tossing bricks through their windows. In the resulting fervor, relationships are ripped apart, and characters find themselves forced to take a stand, even if that decision is to ignore what is going on. When Nazi sympathizers join together in a rousing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” the audience is left stunned, unable to applaud the blatant swastika.
Cabaret unfolds in a blind lashing out against those of Jewish descent. Sweet, kind-hearted neighbors like Herr Schultz are treated as enemies, and women are taunted in song. “She’s clever; she’s smart; she reads music. If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” The line is controversial enough to have been removed in some productions, but the shock value resonates with our treatment of today’s immigrants and the beautiful tapestry of backgrounds that form modern America. Fräulein Schneider (Maxine Sattizahn), a spinster who discovers love with Herr Schulz (Ian Swift) feels the struggle acutely, and she explains her plight in a heart-wrenching “What Would You Do?”
Caught up in the glittering stage of a local cabaret, Sally Bowles avoids the entire situation, preferring to keep the harsh reality at bay with flirtatious songs. Emily Radosevich may not be a dancer, but she is able to infuse emotion into her singing without loss of voice quality. Nearly in tears, she forces a smile for the title song in a bitter-sweet farewell. The sparks do not fly with her partner, Izaak Heath as Cliff Bradshaw. While they are excellent individually, it is difficult to imagine them as lovers, and their interactions appear to be based on convenience, rather than attraction. This may have been intentional, since the production accentuated Bradshaw’s homosexual tendencies and the pressure to avoid giving into them. If so, it is a fascinating twist.
The floor show snippets from Kit Kat Klub’s ensemble are adorable, although slightly stiff, which could have been due to the deliciously sensual, but restricting corset costumes by Michael Berg. Exuberant Emcee Erik Batz gives an entertaining performance with a powerful conclusion and was received with well-deserved enthusiasm. Musical director and pianist Debra Chambliss, Mike Evans (drums), and Jonathan Bretan (bass) balanced with the singers, rather than overwhelming them, and kept the pacing energetic.
This opportune staging of Cabaret is compelling in its depiction of Germany on the brink of World War II, with diverting interludes from the Kit Kat Klub and an excellent cast. Director James Dunn keeps it teetering on the edge between a comedy and thoughtful drama, allowing the audience to consider serious questions while having an enjoyable evening.