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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a new musical version of the 1919 German silent film currently playing in the Midtown International Theater Festival. It mixes suspense and camp into a very unique musical experience.

Francis (Gregg Kapp), upon seeing the beautiful young Jane (Natalie Salins), relates the painful events he endured with the villainous Dr. Caligari (Darrel Blackburn), his sleepwalking minion Cesare (Oliver Burg), the large black cabinet he owns (which looks more than a little like a coffin), and a series of murders that shattered the town.

What makes the show enjoyable, especially if you are unfamiliar the original film, is seeing in what direction the story will go next. Though it is filled with perhaps foreseeable surprises, it is always entertaining, and never truly descends into unruly camp for more than a few moments at a time, much to the credit of book writers Richard Lawton and Douglas Hicton.

Hicton also wrote the music, and it fits the mood of the piece well, frequently sounding like a silent movie, with his lyrics helping establish the eerie setting while providing more than a few surprises of their own. David E. Leidholdt has directed the film in much the style of a silent horror film, and Robin I. Shane's costumes, appointed mostly in black and white, help to set the mood of the piece significantly.

It is the cast, however, that truly stands out. Salins, as Francis's potential love interest, Jane, sings particularly well and bestows her character with a solid likeability and energy that draws your eyes to her even when it seems as if she is somewhere else entirely. Kapp and Burg also sing well, and inhabit their roles nicely, but it is Blackburn, as Caligari, who steals the show. With his sinister air and melodramatic features, he holds most of the drama of the show together, and handles a lengthy song cycle near the show's conclusion with what appears to be the greatest of ease.

Whether you are familiar with the original film or not, there is much to enjoy and admire about The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Though 82 years may have rendered many of the original movie's plot twists and horror ideas somewhat gimmicky, the current musical version proves that solid shows never truly go out of style.

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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Book by Richard Lawton and Douglas Hicton
Music and Lyrics by Douglas Hicton
Based on the film by Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer & Robert Wiene
The Midtown International Theater Festival
Through July 29
The New 42nd Street Theatre, 348 West 42nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets $15 per show / Festival Pass $99
Festival Schedule and Tickets: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200