Also see John's review of High Fidelity
There is one very interesting metaphor here, thoroughly by accident: as singer Sally Bowles (Zarah Mahler) becomes more and more ambitious, like Icarus, she flies too close to the sun. The idea begins to develop in the opening moments, when the lights go down and a blinding stage light shines into our faces from behind a black scrim. Is it a smoggy sunrise, or sunset? Well, anybody who's seen the show knows it's rising for the Nazis, and falling for the rest of Europe. And by the end, this Sally will have sacrificed everything she's got to bask in the glory of that blinding light, while poor Cliff descends into the orchestra pit again: battered and broken, seeming to fall back to Earth; his own wax wings melting by association. The only problem is that this Weimar Germany looks a lot more like a wealthy New York, in the crazy days of the 1920s. Throw in a thick, shiny laminate floor that allows for some nifty up-lighting, and it's a regular Freud and Ginger extravaganza. It's just a very expensive corruption of a play about corruption.
Vogue did a photo essay on the original Broadway production in the spring of 1967, describing the atmosphere as: "Slinky, deliberately cheap, (and) low-down," where the "come-hither glances" of the Kit Kat girls "lack desire (and) their sing-song voices bleat." But in this new 2009 production, the girls are sleek, bubbly and squeaky clean, except for the occasional foray into lightly sexualized choreography.
Genre author and director Scott Miller:
Fortunately, the performers in this new production are uniformly excellent, in spite of the suspiciously flashy, jubilant atmosphere. As the Emcee, Patrick Andrews is gleefully talented, but almost harmless in his presentation, as he must be to blend in. In fact, the few historical facts that remain seem strangely out of place: when a sound effect of a smashed storefront window foretells of the coming Kristallnacht, the only people who jump are in the audience, so lulled are we into this Ice-Capades re-telling. And a self-consciously inserted tape recording of an angry Adolf Hitler only reminds us that historical truth should permeate every moment of Cabaret, that the two are completely dependent on one another. But, sadly, this production could just as easily be a prequel to the first Indiana Jones movie, with colorful, posing Nazis who happen to sing a show-stopping rendition of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." It's as if Drury Lane had consciously attempted to create its own version of Springtime for Hitler, the mythical flop from The Producers.
The really terrific performances also include the dour and hilarious Rebecca Finnegan's turn as Fraulein Schneider (whose "What Would You Do?" also stops the show) and David Lively's work as her fiancé, Herr Schultz. Christine Sherrill is great as the prostitute upstairs, and sings the only truly frightening moment of the night, with the fine Brandon Dahlquist (as Ernst), in the reprise of "Tomorrow Belongs…" But because there's no real trace of decadence to be seen, the rise of Hitler seems strangely random.
Director Corti does some other non-orthodox things with the show, like blending the "book scenes" and cabaret scenes together, with louche lounge lizards watching Cliff and Sally in their apartment, from the skeletal arches of a Gothic nightclub set. An amusing drag queen (Rob Lindley) sings the first "Tomorrow Belongs" instead of the Emcee. And in the opening number, that up-lighting in the laminate floor briefly paints the cast as a lurid, Lautrec-style nightmare, though that remarkable moment is never fully developed into a visual theme. It's all too pretty, and we leave feeling dirty for all the wrong reasons.
This misguided revival of Kander and Ebb's legendary musical continues through October 11, 2009 at the Drury Lane Oakbrook, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook, IL, about 18 miles west of downtown Chicago. For information call (630) 530-8300 or visit them online at www.drurylaneoakbrook.com.
* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association
** Denotes member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc.
Photography by Johnny Knight
Vogue photo essay from the collection of Kathie Dalton, of the original Broadway cast. Scott Miller (New Line Theatre) quoted with permission.