Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Cabaret"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark


"Cabaret"

Book by Joe Masteroff
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Music by John Kander
Directed by Lisa Hackman
Musical Direction by Jeremy Lang
Choreography by Michael Estrada

Sct Design by Meredith Taitz
Lighting Design by Jerry Donham
Costume Design by Milena Buls
Sound Design by Adam Friedman
Make Up Designed by Matt Corrigan
Managing Producers Susan Anderson, Vilas Sridharan
Executive Producer P. Kristin Newby
Assistant Stage Manager Christie Hershey
Stage Manager Curtis Wright

Emcee.....................Daniel J. Rabone
Clifford Bradshaw...............Eric Rubbe
Ernst Ludwig....................Jay Levitt
Fraulein Schneider..............Anna Price
Herr Schultz..........Curtis A. Challenger
Fraulein Kost...............Stefanie Tovar
Sally Bowles.................Leanne Kramer
Rosie.......,...........Kara Anne Jasinski
Lulu....................Suzanne Kay Yaukey
Frenchie.................Heather Beardsley
Texas.........................Ginnie Moore
Fritzie..................Kelly Ann Laverty
Helga.........................Heather Goff
Bobby..........................Ben Carroll
Victor.......................David Peckham
Hans........................James Goldsack
Herman.....................Bronwen Gilbert
Max........................Richard Trevino
ORCHESTRA:
Conductor................................Jeremy Lang
Violin..Jennifer Chu, Gretchen Faulkner, Becky Paysnik, Rodrigo Philander, Carl Woolf
Viola...................................Jessica Cande
Cello.....................................Paul Mattal
Bass.......................................Ben Daveny
Woodwinds...Andy Bergman, Jonathan Girard, Jeri Sykes
Trumpet..................Toshi Clark, Catherine Evans
Horns...................Analisa Peterson, Alec Zimmer
Trombone............................Patrick J. Cotter
Piano......................................Beth Cohen
Accordion...........................Nancy Barden-Koch
Percussion..........Brian O'Neill, Eric Michael Kelly

"Cabaret" keeps evolving --- from Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories" to the stage and film as "I Am A Camera" to the Kander & Ebb musical to Bob Fosse's very different film to a completely new take in a recent Broadway revival; it's like a sinster snake with ever-changing skins. The longwood Players' "Cabaret" is an oddly compartmentalized production. Much like Isherwood's fractured original, it has several loosely connected parts that seem separately rehearsed and never fully integrated, despite the excellence of each part judged on its own terms.

Uppermost, to my eye, is the doomed love affair of two aging Germans: the realist landlady (Anna Price) and the romantic Jewish fruit-seller (Curtis A. Challenger). Tenderly sung and movingly acted, this is a neat theatrical gem. (So what if Herr Schultz is Black and Fraulein Schneider Carribean?*[See Note] Their playing together is superb!)

Beside that is the equally doomed love affair of aspiring English cabaret-star Sally Bowles (Leanne Kramer) and aspiring American bi-sexual novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Eric Rubbe). They argue over his concern and her indifference about the rise of Hitler's Nazism, and about the child he wants to marry her and father, while she sees it as the end of her "career". They sing a couple songs, but this is essentially two actors in confrontation and subtext, with as much offstage sex as offstage politics.

And beside those are the closet Nazis --- one a smooth and manipulative professional (Jay Levitt) the other a comically exaggerated two-Mark whore (Stefanie Tovar) --- who both reveal their swastika arm-bands only at the end of Act One. These are the true, understated threat menacing Berlin and the world in 1929.

But of course the main focus of "Cabaret" will always be The Kit Kat Club, with its silver-string curtain, which sells Weimar-tawdry, lasciviously explcit sex of all types. Tall, white-faced, shaven-headed Daniel J. Rabone is ring-master here as The Emcee --- bending his powerfully sardonic, indifferent quips closer and closer to the storm-trooper he becomes at play's end. He and the Kit Kat Boys handle "Ze Girls" with theatrical intimacy. Rarely (and never in a community theatre production) have I seen so many bosoms so eagerly offered to fondling fingers. It's enough to make even Bob Fosse blush!

And, of course, Fosse's aim of making audiences blush informs every moment of this show, just as Choreographer Michelle Estrada has looted the stage-retrospective "Fosse" for all sorts of tricks and styles and gestures. (Didn't I see a bit of "The Rich Men's Frug" for a few moments?) It is ambitious choreography, intricate and varied and knowingly encroaching on the edge of obscenity --- just as "Cabaret" should be! (In the "If You Could See Her..." number, Rabone and an ape in ballet-slippers make that comedy turn delightfully new!)

And, backing all that is Jeremy Lang's eleven-piece orchestra, tastefully controlled when accompanying songs and bubbling with syncopated jazz riffs in snippets meant to cover quick scene-changes (Thanks Curtis Wright and crew!) and in the expressive "Entr'act" and "Kick Line" numbers opening Act Two. This crew Cooks!

Director Lisa Hackman and Choreographer Michelle Estrada handle the big, high, deep stage at the Central Square YMCA comfortably, and Jerry Donham's lights manage startlingly effective blackouts and isolating close-lighting even though there's no follow-spot. Designer Meredith Taitz' sets of variously-sized boxes keep the action swiftly fluid, and there's an iron spiral-staircase at the stage-right proscenium edge that looks built for just this production. What this five-year company has put on stage is impressive.

Still, though what's there is a half-full production, it is half-empty when judged against potential. The excellent parts never look integrated --- admittedly a fault of the script, but to be dealt with nonetheless. For instance Costumer Milena Buls has put the Kit Kat Girls into slovely underwear and tattered mesh stockings, but in her two star-turn numbers Sally is always fully dressed in expensive fashionable frocks with knee-or-below-length skirts. And the sizzling simulated sex is so obviously "on display" to the audience that at no time does it create the flesh-crawling feeling of reality it might. And so while this young company can take just pride in what they've accomplished, I hope they're ambitious enough to admit that as yet, reach exceeds grasp.

What's next for The Longwood Players? Well, they might leave the spiral staircase on stage, go broke on sets, and spend the year working on Sondheim's "Follies" --- just for me! I'll bet they could pul it off...
Break a leg all!

Love,
===Anon. *[Note]
Date: Mon, 12 May 2003 14:07:14 -0400
To: larrystark@theatermirror.com
From: Anna Price aprice@hsph.harvard.edu
Subject: Cabaret Review
Hi Larry,
I read your review of The Longwood Players Production of Cabaret and want to thank you very much for your glowing compliments re my performance of Fraulein Schneider. However, I wanted to point out that I not from the Caribbean as stated in your piece-- I am actually of Irish-Russian-German descent (and half Jewish to boot!)
Thanks again for the review.
Regards,
Anna Price


"Cabaret" (9 - 17 May)
THE LONGWOOD PLAYERS
Cambridge Family YMCA Theatre, 820 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE MA
1(617) 566-3513


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