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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Cabaret
Stage Door Theatre


Ronen Bay and Cast
The musical Cabaret is based on the play I Am A Camera, by John Van Druten, and Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories." It is the tale of a young American named Cliff (Pierre Tannous) who has come to Berlin in 1929 to write his first novel. Cliff finds troubled but charming British cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Katie Amadeo), who is working in a troubled but charming club in Berlin amidst the pivotal historical backdrop of the rise of the Third Reich. Cliff is conflicted by both his sexuality and his political conscience, and Sally by her unwillingness to assign any meaning to what is going on around her. The doom of their relationship is mirrored by the one between their elderly boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider (Elissa Solomon) and her Jewish suitor Herr Schultz (Michael Small) as they face the harsh realities of the impending Nazi regime and the possibility of their new life together.

The hedonistic depiction of the 1920s-30s nightclub setting portrays the long-standing cabaret tradition existing in cities like Berlin at the time. Frequented by the upper and industrialist classes as places of indulgence and indiscretion, they survived in the underbelly of an ordered German society despite social and political changes. Cabaret does not focus on the complex political issues of the time, but comments on their societal impact within the microcosm of this cabaret. It is no accident that Sally's character says "What does any of this have to do with me?" and Cliff later responds "Either you are against all of this, or you are part of it."

John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) make clear the piece's intent in the songs "What Would You Do?" and "If You Could See Her." The first song is plaintively sung by Fräulein Schneider as she determines to break her engagement to her Jewish fiancé. The second is a comically sung explanation of why the Emcee (Ronen Bay) loves his girlfriend despite the fact that she is Jewish. Cabaret's book, compellingly written by Joe Masteroff, cannot be diminished by even its memorable music and choreography.

The original Broadway production of Cabaret opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on November 20, 1966, later transferring to the Imperial Theatre and then the Broadway Theatre before completing its 1,165-performance run, winning eight Tony Awards. In truth, Cabaret is probably best known by the 1972 Academy Award winning film starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. Liza Minnelli, as vapid cabaret singer Sally Bowles, is obliviously upbeat, and Joel Grey, as the puppet-like Kit Kat Klub Emcee, is mischievously naughty. Despite some plot revisions, film director Bob Fosse managed to keep the same feel for the movie that Harold Prince provided for the stage show.

A Broadway revival opened at the Imperial Theatre on October 22, 1987, later transferring to the Minskoff Theatre to complete its 261-performance run. A second Broadway revival, based on a 1993 London production, opened at the Kit Kat Klub (previously known as Henry Miller's Theatre, now the Stephen Sondheim Theatre) on March 19, 1998. Later that year it transferred to Studio 54 to play out its 2,377-performance run. That production, directed by Sam Mendes, took a slightly different approach. Again, it had some song and plot changes from the original. But, more memorably, the characters' edges were sharpened and their appearances less polished. Sally Bowles is more desperate and knowing, and the Emcee more leering and raunchy. The Kit Kat Girls were not painted and provocative dance hall girls, but bruised and tattered prostitutes. The choreography was made more vulgar and sexual. The 1998 production received four Tony Awards. A third revival, based on the 1998 production, opened at Studio 54 on April 24, 2014 and is set to run through March 29, 2015. Each of these productions varied slightly in scene work and song, by deleting the song "Meeskite" sung by Herr Schultz, adding the song "I Don't Care Much" sung by the Emcee, replacing the song "Why Should I Wake Up" with "Don't Go" sung by Cliff, and/or combining "I'm Sitting Pretty" with "Money" sung by the Emcee.

The production currently at the Stage Door Theatre appears to combine elements of more than one version, most closely the 1998 and 2012 revivals. Though the choreography by Ben Solmor is appropriately vulgar and sexual, the Kit Kat Girls are not as battered and bruised, and the overall feel of the production not as gritty as the 1998 version.

An androgynous Ronen Bay is utterly engaging as the Emcee. He has a disarming quality that somehow comes off as nearly without guile, even while being lewd. Most importantly, he seems completely at home in the Kit Kat Klub—more like it is his living room than a performance space.

Katie Amadeo acts the role of Sally to near perfection. Her performance is layered with nuances, and her subtext is always clear. She has a bit more heart and vulnerability than most Sallys—be that good or bad. Amadeo is clearly a much stronger actress than singer, however, and there are times when it is unclear whether her vocal ability dictates her acting choices in song. Some songs seem to be in difficult keys for her, and there are no big moments vocally. I personally don't love the director's take on the song "Maybe This Time." I don't believe Sally suddenly gets it, and begins to unravel into a hot mess in the midst of the song. The point of Sally is that she represents the masses of people who didn't get it and/or consciously chose to not get it. She is juxtaposed against the Cliffs of the world who caught on mid-stream, and tried to call attention to it to those around them.

Pierre Tannous plays the conflict of Cliff well, but is missing a center for his character at the beginning of the show. We don't get enough of a sense of who Cliff is, separate from his issues. Tannous has a lovely singing voice, but we only get to hear him sing briefly in the duet "Perfectly Marvelous," as both "Don't Go" and "Why Should I Wake Up?" are cut from this production.

Elissa Solomon does a very nice job spinning her character in song as Fräulein Schneider. Her handling of "So What"—not focusing on trying to beautifully sing the melodic line of the song as much as the character and the lyrics—makes it one of my favorite moments in the show. It is simple, straightforward and believable. She is wonderfully paired with Michael Small as suitor Herr Schultz. Small exudes a cuddly Yiddish appeal that warms the very stage beneath him. How could we not want him and Fräulein Schneider to end up together?

Scenic and lighting elements for this production create a slightly dark, worn, and used Kit Kat Klub, and a sparse but clean boarding house. The pre-recorded music used for this production is serviceable but lacking in depth and dynamics. The ensemble as a whole seems to consist of stronger dancers than singers, as group numbers are not as full sounding as they could be. There are a few moments when there should be more light on the Kit Kat dancers in group numbers. As the choreography is always one of the draws of this show, we just don't want to miss any of it!

Cabaret will be appearing at The Stage Door Theatre through March 15, 2015. The theater is located at 8036 W. Sample Rd in Coral Springs, Florida. The Stage Door Theatre is a not-for-profit professional theatre company hiring local and non-local nonunion actors and actresses. Their two stages in Coral Springs. For tickets and information, you may call 954-344-7765 or visit www.stagedoortheatre.com.

Cast:
Emcee: Ronen Bay
Sally Bowles: Katie Amadeo
Clifford Bradshaw: Pierre Tannous
Fraulein Schneider: Elissa Solomon
Herr Schultz: Michael Small
Ernst Ludwig: Ben Prayz
Fraulein Kost: Katrina Michaels
Max: David Vogel
Sailor #1/Rudy: James Giordano
Sailor #2: Keegan Tanner
Sailor #3: Ben Solmor
Kit Kat Girls:
Rosie: Crystal Michael Valdes
Lulu: Laura Gill
Frenchie: Lauren Kaye
Texas: Alexandra Dow
Fritzie: Emily Tarallo
Helga: Sandi M. Stock
Kit Kat Boys:
Bobby:Keegen Tanner
Victor: Ben Solmor
Hans: James Giordano
Herman: David Vogel

Crew:
Director: Dan Kelley
Musical Director: Michael Larsen
Choreographer: Ben Solmor
Set Design: Sean McClelland
Lighting Design: Andrew Myers
Costume Design: Dan Kelley
Stage Manager: Nancy Clay


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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