Also see Richard's recent review of Cloud 9
I have seen various versions of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, including the original on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre with Jill Haworth, Joel Grey, Jack Gilford and the great Lotte Lenya in 1966. The musical walked off with 8 Tony awards including best musical. This was followed by the Bob Fosse film plus regional company productions in the '80s.
We were in London in '93 when Sam Mendes opened his version of Cabaret at the small Donmar Warehouse. The show was completely reinvented with a night club setting and we watched the marvelous Jane Horrocks perform the role of Sally Ann Bowles and the remarkable Alan Cumming in the role of the Emcee. When the Roundabout Theatre Company decided to do the Mendes production at the old Henry Miller Theater on West 43rd, we rushed to get tickets for the new Kit Kat Klub. This time Natasha Richardson played the role of the semi-talented Sally Bowles.
Following that cast has been a long list of actors playing the various roles in New York and on the road. But I thought I had seen it all and I did not want my memories distorted by other productions.
When Best of Broadway announced that the current company, starring Andrea McArdle and Jon Peterson, would be returning for just a two weeks of performances, and that this would be the last time that an American audience would see this gritty and revolutionary reincarnation of the classic, I decided to see it on opening night.
Cabaret tells the story of an English woman's romance with an American writer set against the background of a crumbling Germany at the start of the Third Reich. It is the dramatization of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories.
I found this version more realistic than the New York and London productions, probably because it was back on a large proscenium stage. The threat of the Nazis coming to power is more prevalent when one is separate from the drama. You get a hard look at Berlin in the early '30s. This production is edgy, hypersexual and very riveting. It takes a little while for the actors to get the feel of this large theater but once the Emcee and Sally Bowles find their mark it becomes a sharp and raunchy show.
The setting is stark with scenery consisting of black iron scaffolding that only suggests a ragged nightclub. The orchestra playing on the a platform on the second story of the stage adds the right amount of sleaziness to the music. The musicians are dressed in the obtrusive garb of the Kit Kat Klub. The sets are simple with a few doors in the background. The props are simple and such items as a table and chair represent various scene changes.
Andrea McArdle as Sally Bowles can certainly belt out a song, especially in the title song. She is a dazzler. There is nothing demure about her in her black lace costume and leather boots. She sings "Cabaret," not as a great anthem but as a desperate shout or challenge from a woman on the verge of realizing her own disillusionment.
It took a while for me to warm up to Jon Peterson as the Emcee. He was trying to find his character on this large stage during the opening number " Willkommen," and the sound system was not working with him. However, as the musical progressed he found the character of the cynical emcee, though he does not have the ominous presence about him that Cumming brought to the role. Mr. Peterson has a voice like the late Anthony Newley and it contains a certain high, comically whining characteristic about it. Jon has a real handle on "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes," however his "Two Ladies" comes over too fast and furious.
The two outstanding performers were Alma Cuervo as Fraulein Schneider and Hal Robinson as Herr Schultz. I found their rendition of "It Couldn't Please Me More" and "Married" marvelous. I thought Ms. Cuervo was as good as, maybe even a little better than, Blair Brown in the New York revival. Cuervo's solo of "What Would you Do" is heartbreaking. Her other number, "So What," shows a world-weary, elderly woman who lived through much, both good and bad, and has survived.
Hank Stratton plays the aspiring American writer. This has never been a showy role for a singer, however he has a pleasant voice and manner. His duet with Andrea, singing "Perfectly Marvelous" is fine but it seemed shortened in this company's production.
The entr'acte by the orchestra in the second act brings down the house. The musicians are outstanding. The chorus of beefy girls and sexy boys is impressive and the music is rousing and brassy. There is a certain sexual frankness in the choreography. I was a little disappointed with the way the chorus handled "Tomorrow Belongs to Me". This is a stirring song and should tell the audience of the coming Nazi storm.
In conclusion, this is a good production with a strong cast. However, I think this production would have played better at the Curran Theater. This is an intimate musical and the Orpheum is just too large for this presentation.
Cabaret is here for 16 performances only. It runs through May 20 at the Orpheum Theatre at 1192 Market Street, San Francisco, Ca. Tickets are $35 - $76 and are available at Ticketmaster (415)512-7770.