Taunting, terrifying ‘Cabaret’ sizzles
THEATER REVIEW Revival illustrates the dangers of demagoguery
After 50 years, Cabaret remains a cautionary and critical reminder of what can happen when you keep partying or look away as demagoguery rears its ugly head.
Taunting, teasing and ultimately terrifying, the AT&T Performing Arts Center presentation of the national tour of Broadway’s Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival sizzles on the Winspear stage. The Tony Award-winning show is a hypnotic masterwork of John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff.
The story of Sally Bowles, the British performer who sings in Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub, oblivious and disdainful of politics and persecution as the Nazis rise to power, is familiar from stage and film. The Roundabout Theater direction, re-created by BT McNicholl from the original work by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, offers a skillful blend of songs that worked well in other incarnations (including the film’s wrenching “Maybe This Time”) with effective visual images that add interpretive depth, including references to gays who would be one of the many groups targeted under Hitler’s reign.
Too often Sally’s title song, “Cabaret,”
is misinterpreted as an upper — an homage to someone determined to love life no matter what. As vulnerably and defiantly performed by Andrea Goss, we feel the growing tragedy of someone who knows she is heading to the abyss, but can’t bring herself to stop or reverse course, not unlike the world of those who went on with their lives while millions died.
Similarly, Randy Harrison brings a youthful, brash and hypersexualized delivery to the Emcee. Sporting crisscrossed suspenders over a bare torso, he’s simultaneously a Greek chorus, shifting from performer to observer, and a court jester, whose sardonic wit will not save him from the rulers’ wrath forever.
A riveting cast and scantily dressed onstage orchestra (I wonder how subscriptions for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra might jump if they tried William Ivey Long’s torn stockings and corsets?) help this crisp show fly through 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Robert Brill’s set infuses intimacy, with musicians playing on an upper level, sometimes viewed through a giant, suspended, askew dressing-room-like mirror frame flashing with bulbs. In the lower level, action unfolds against a rooming house backdrop with three dingy doors that stand like question marks, reminding us of the impact of choices as characters choose one or the other.
Lee Aaron Rosen brings heft to Clifford Bradshaw, the perplexed, sexually conflicted writer who comes to Berlin looking for a story and finds a darker one than anticipated. One of the most affecting vignettes belongs to Mark Nelson as Herr Schultz, the kindly, older Jewish fruit seller, and Fräulein Schneider, played by Shannon Cochran with a brittle, patrician aura of loss that melts, slowly and sweetly, under the warmth of Schultz’s adoring attentions.
Their duet, “Married,” offers a tender alternative to Sally’s tempestuous “Maybe This Time” with the lines “How the world can change/It can change like that — Due to one little word: ‘married.’ ”
The irony, of course, is that their world did change. Sadly, it changed into one where two people who loved each other could not get married, which turned out to be an early step toward the avalanche of horrors ahead.
The national tour of Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Cabaret continues through Sunday in the AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series.
Lee Aaron Rosen (left) brings heft to the role of a sexually conflicted writer. Shannon Cochran conveys a brittle, patrician aura of loss and Mark Nelson portrays Herr Schultz, the kindly fruit seller.