Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Cabaret
Timely, Tuneful and Terrifying
National Tour

Review by David Edward Hughes


Mary Gordon Murray and Scott Robertson
Photo by Joan Marcus
My friend and one-time roommate Joel often spoke of his Jewish grandfather who always, in hushed tones when mentioning the Holocaust, cautioned his family members "Never forget." We currently live in a time, when, to quote a great Cole Porter lyric "the world has gone mad today, and good's bad today, and black's white today, and days night today," and many decent enough people seemed to have never heard of such past tragedies. The Tony Award and Oscar award winning musical Cabaret, book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb, is as timely, tuneful and terrifying as it ever was.

So darkly and hauntingly realized is this production based on the scorchingly directed Broadway revival, that the ace touring company, directed after the Roundabout version by BT McNicholl played to a beyond enthusiastic, but definitely not full house at Tuesday's opening at the Paramount. Also not present at that performance was Broadway and television vet Mary Gordon Murray in the key supporting role of Fraulein Schneider, originally created by Kurt Weill's wife and muse Lotte Lenya. Though Ms. Murray's stellar standby Lucy Sorlucco filled the shoes of the world-weary Fraulein Schneider admirably, it was worth seeing the show a second time on Wednesday with Ms. Murray recovered and delivering a performance of great depth, subtlety, and vocal dynamism.

First, some textual background. Springing from Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical "Berlin Stories" was John van Druten's Broadway play I Am a Camera in which a sexually ambivalent writer falls for a tawdry, talentless, British cabaret singer as Berlin and their friends lives slowly crumble around them. The 1966 original Broadway Cabaret featured Hal Prince's stark and fearless direction in presenting the first true concept musical of the post-Hello, Dolly! and Mame feel-good Broadway musical era. Stage and film genius director/choreographer Bob Fosse's lauded 1972 film version gave Hollywood its first truly razor-edged adult film musical, while removing the key subplot romance of the Jewish grocer Herr Schultz and the gentile Berlin boarding house keeper Fraulein Schneider, and arguably miscast a brilliant Liza Minnelli as a Sally Bowles who is far too expert a song and dance gal to ring true as the pathetic head in the sand girl Isherwood originally depicted. Pitch dark perfection best describes the 1998 West End/Broadway Sam Mendes revival, co-directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall (the film of Chicago), in which the Emcee's presence is that of a specter at a masque of red death, who ultimately cannot escape the Third Reich's persecution of the Jewish, mentally challenged, and homosexual populations of Germany.

This touring revival cast, sharply directed by BT McNicholl, could scarcely be bettered. Leigh Ann Larkin (a chameleonic performer last seen on Broadway as Dainty June, to Patti LuPone's Rose, and the lusty Petra in the acclaimed A Little Night Music revival) is sizzling as a Sally Bowles who goes from blissful ignorance to stark realization (and kills with her own scorching takes on "Maybe This Time" and a shattering "Cabaret." Benjamin Eakeley is a sympathetic and shaken Clifford Bradshaw, and if this Cliff sings next to nothing, his final chorus of "Willkommen" is a moment when only song can say what this pivotal character is feeling.

Patrick Vaill amazes as the seemingly benign but ultimately treacherous Ernst, and Alison Ewing is a tart little tart indeed as the slithery, raunchily seductive streetwalker Fraulein Kost. Mesmerizing Jon Peterson makes the reptilian Emcee a multi-faceted study in the degradation of the German people under the Nazi regime, and he gets a panacea of great material to sink his toothy grin into, from "Willkommen" to "Two Ladies" to "Money, Money" to "If You Could See Her" to a totally chilling "I Don't Care Much." But, and I admit to having a partiality to these characters, the standouts are Murray's Schneider—her "So What?" and "What Would You Do?" taking in the full measure of the Kurt Weill pastiche style of the numbers—and the endearing, warmly comic and deeply felt performance of her fellow Broadway vet Scott Robertson as Herr Schultz. It is sheer casting alchemy when the pair share the uniquely amusing "Pineapple Song" ("It Couldn't Please Me More") and then bring us to a level of tender tears with "Married." With several varied tune-stacks to this enduring musical, one may or may not mourn the absence of such songs as "Why Should I Wake Up?", "Don't Go," "Telephone Song," and "Meeskite," but they have no place really is this version of the show.

The Berlin by the docks boys and ladies of the night in a large singing/dancing ensemble expertly recreate the choreography of Marshall as adapted by Cynthia Onrubia. They are a model of technical prowess and gut-level emotionalism. The large band is onstage in Robert Brill's set, a seamless and constantly varied netherworld vision of boarding house transforming into the Kit Kat Klub and sometimes cohabitating. William Ivey Long's pansexual costumes never glamorize the cold reality by giving too many regards to Broadway, while Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari's lighting design is simply spine tingling. Last but not least, Keith Caggiano's sound design has a level of clarity and crispness uncommon to the ears of many of the Paramount's frequent attendees.

When you're as old as I, you can tell a ramshackle Cabaret from a show-palace. A tawdry show palace perhaps, but one that you will that you will and must never forget waits for you at 9th and Pine. It is not a show for, however, for those whose choice of a showtune is "I Don't Want to Know. " Admit it.

Cabaret performs at the Paramount Theatre through June 25th, 2017. For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.cabaretmusical.com.


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