Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Violet
Cabaret is set in Berlin in 1929, where American Clifford Bradshaw arrives seeking inspiration to become a successful novelist. At the Kit Kat Klub, he meets singer Sally Bowles and other denizens of the seedy nightclub life. Cliff, a bisexual, is swept away by the advances of the sexy yet tragic Sally. Their elderly friends Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz likewise undertake a courtship, but their future together is tested by the impact of the growing power of the Nazi regime. This compelling story is told within the framework of the cabaret, with the Emcee serving as narrator and social commentator.
The score by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago, Kiss of the Spiderwoman) has been tweaked over the years, with new songs added for the film version and various revivals, and others cut. The songs include well-known ones such as "Willkommen," "Don't Tell Mama," "Money," and the title number. These and many other well-constructed numbers are both musically attractive and dramatically effective.
Joe Masteroff's multi-faceted book provides carefully drawn characters, and he successfully uses the Emcee to expound on the culture and atmosphere of 1929 Germany. Some of the commentary seems extremely timely, especially when talking about the growing power of the Nazis. The similarities to today's unique situations and comparisons between Donald Trump and the politics of that period were not lost on the opening night audience.
As the Emcee, Randy Harrison energetically embodies the naughty, raunchy, playful nature of the role, and conveys both the bright and dark sides of the character. He sings with great strength and ease, and is a fierce narrator for the tale. Mr. Harrison is a University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music grad from more than fifteen years ago, and is well known to TV audiences from his time on "Queer as Folk" in the early 2000s. Lee Aaron Rosen is convincing as Clifford, showing the character's practical yet curious nature and intelligent assessment of the people and situations around him. Mr. Rosen sings well, though this version doesn't include a lot of music for his role.
In the pivotal role of Sally Bowles, Andrea Goss captures the impulsive free-spiritedness of the nightclub singer, as well as her desperation. The role is often given to actresses who aren't great singers, but this isn't the case here, as Ms. Goss is a first-rate vocalist. As Fraulein Schneider, Shannon Cochran is aptly forthright and likable, and Mark Nelson's Herr Schultz is tender and endearing. The reality of the future between Cochran and Nelson's characters is heartbreaking, and their scenes together are effectively executed. Ned Noyes (Ernst Ludwig) and Alison Ewing (Fraulein Kost) provide well-layered portrayals in support, and each of the ensemble members play instruments in the Kit Kat Band in addition to using their wonderful talents as actors, singers, and dancers.
BT McNicholl (director) and Cynthia Onrubia (choreographer) duplicate the work of original revival creative team Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall. The show flows extremely well and all elements of the storythe humorous, touching, vulgar, or dramaticare winningly staged. Robert Cookman capably leads the Kit Kat Band, which is delightfully highlighted in the "Entr'acte."
The versatile unit set design by Robert Brill captures the distressed, seedy world of the characters and the costumes by William Ivey Long likewise are time and setting appropriate. Peggy Eisenhauer's atmospheric lighting is varied and certainly emphasizes the dramatic elements of the story.
Cabaret isn't a show that sends an audience home on a high note, but it does leave theatergoers entertained, challenged, and educated. The winning production and talented cast of this (now) well-known version make the touring production one well deserving of attention and attendance.
Cabaret continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through May 22, 2016, and tickets can be obtained by calling (513) 521-ARTS. For more information on the tour, visit /www.cabaretmusical.com/tickets.