It was a warm, muggy Sunday afternoon at the Warner Theatre on the campus of Worcester Academy. I was there to attend a performance of Cabaret as staged by the Acting Up Theatre Company. It is a relatively young company; this is its fourth year. I had heard of it previously but was always out of the city during the summer months which is when the company performs. I had no expectations that this performance would be any better or any worse than the many performances of other community theatre companies I had seen.
A pre-curtain murmur in the audience continued as the Kit Kat Club performers made their informal, staggered entrances, stretching and talking to each other as they took their places on stage. The murmur was not to last long. Under the adept leadership of the Emcee, the opening musical number quickly captured the audience’s attention, attention which remained on the performers for the rest of the performance.
As the actors made their entrances, I was struck early in the show by their youth and the thought flashed through my mind that I was about to witness a performance which would be analogous to a college level senior class play. It was an awfully warm afternoon to attend a college level play but I had paid for my ticket and I was there. Thank the Fates that I stayed, for what I experienced in the next few hours transported me to the decadent times and people of a pre-World War II Berlin. The actor’s job is to create illusion, to bring the audience out of the theatre to another time and place. Sometimes this illusion includes the transcendence of the actor’s own age and this cast of mostly young actors achieves that transcendence when necessary. To say that the Acting Up Theatre Company succeeded in its task is to grossly understate what happens on the stage of the Warner Theatre.
Despite her youth, Amy K. Mills fills the theatre with the voice and spirit of a hopeful but resigned Fraulein Schneider. MJJ Cashman (Herr Schultz) does not have to make as great a leap in age but manages to make the love he holds for Fraulein Schneider believable while registering his own eventual resignation to the state of German life at the time. Maggie Marino (Fraulein Kost) and Eric Scott (Ernst Ludwig) bring their characters to life, aging themselves in the process. Jeffrey Prescott’s interpretation of author Clifford Bradshaw begins slowly but builds throughout his performance and when he sings, he is on the mark. This show, however, belongs to Dan Beaulieu (Emcee) and Daina Schatz (Sally Bowles). Mr. Beaulieu never strays from the fine line between presence and invisibility necessary for him to expose the downward spiral of the characters and the world as they know it. He balances on this line using the changing timbre of his voice as it slides deeper into the shadows of things to come. Simply stated, Ms. Schatz is Sally Bowles from the moment she appears on stage. When she moves, Sally moves. When she speaks, Sally speaks. When she sings (and oh, how she can sing), it is Sally we hear, bewildered and confused, torn between the dreams of her heart and the reality of her life. When Ms. Schatz sings Maybe This Time, she bares Sally’s soul and shares her deepest hopes and fears with the audience in a way that portends what has to happen.
It would be unfair not to give credit to the Kit Kat Girls and Boys for the job they do in keeping the momentum of the show from fading. They are a young, energetic and talented group. Special mention should be made of the beautifully harmonized a cappella performance of Tomorrow Belongs to Me, sung by the Kit Kat Boys in Act I. Melanie Guerin conducts a group of young musicians who are able to keep pace with the score and help create the illusion of life in Berlin.
John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) take credit for many successful Broadway shows. It is they who have created this decadent, yet touching, work, which reminds us of a time in history we dare not forget; it is the cast which brings it to life.
Final performances of Cabaret are this Thursday-Saturday (July 22-24) at 8:00 P.M. and Sunday (July 25) at 3:00 P.M. at the Warner Theatre on the campus of Worcester Academy.