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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Cabaret

Also see John's review of Rocky Horror Show

Cabaret
Joanna Mandel, Leah Sessa and Del Marrero
Cabaret is based on both the play I Am A Camera by John Van Druten and Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. It is the tale of a young, would-be author named Cliff from America in search of his first novel in 1929 Germany. Cliff finds a troubled but charming cabaret singer named Sally from England working in the troubled but charming Kit Kat Klub in Berlin. Their meeting is set amidst the pivotal historic backdrop of the rise of the Third Reich. Cliff is torn by both his sexuality and his political conscience, and Sally by her inability to let go of the perpetual party that she believes is her life in spite of what is happening all around her. The doom of their relationship is mirrored by the relationship between their elderly boarding house owner, Fraulein Schneider, and her Jewish suitor Herr Schultz, as they face the impending Nazi regime and the possibility of their new life together.

The musical Cabaret is probably best known as the 1972 Academy Award winning film starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. Liza Minnelli as cabaret singer Sally Bowles is the oblivious party girl, and Joel Grey as the Kit Kat Klub Emcee is mischievously androgynous. Film director Bob Fosse managed to keep the same feel for the show as original Broadway director, Harold Prince, despite some plot revisions. The 1996 Broadway revival of Cabaret, directed by Sam Mendes, took a slightly different approach to show. In addition to some song and plot changes from the original, the characters' edges are sharpened and their appearances less polished. Sally Bowles is more desperate and knowing, and the Emcee more leering and raunchy. The Kit Kat Klub Girls are not painted and provocative dance hall girls, but bruised and drugged prostitutes.

The hedonistic depiction of the 1920s nightclub setting surrounding the characters is an accurate portrayal of the long-standing cabaret tradition existing in cities such as Berlin. 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 examines the social impact of the complexity of the political issues of the time from within the microcosm of one cabaret club and a boarding house. It is no accident that Sally's character asks, "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."

This production of Cabaret follows the 1996 revival version of the show. The lighting is appropriately dark, but in need of more specific intent in its use. The choreography is a sexually graphic vaudevillian routine in style. Overall, the cast executes the dancing well, but perhaps because of the nature of the piece there is not a shining choreographic moment. Shane Blanford manages to capture the style the best. He handles the sexually charged nature of the choreography as though it were an everyday thing for everyone at the Kit Kat Klub. That should be the intent—that the characters are so immersed in this lifestyle that the vulgar is commonplace. He plays the demanding role quite well, but those of you expecting to see an Emcee like the one played by Joel Grey will not find it here, as Blanford has modeled himself after Alan Cumming who played the role in the revival. The lascivious nature of his character melts away in the song "I Don't Care Much" which he sings hauntingly.

The sound for this production is troublesome from the first note sung. It appears that whenever someone sings above mezzo-forte, they become somewhat muffled, making it hard to understand some of the lines, whether they are spoken or sung. The live band plays the score very well, but at times slightly overpowers the singer. There are many good moments in the show, but actors struggle with consistency. Leah Sessa as Sally is right on the money for most of the show. She is every inch a Sally who is vivacious, sexy and callow. Though her singing voice is great in the song "Maybe This Time," she continually chugs her arms up and down with clenched hands to her sides, pulsing on nearly every note. Her voice again is enjoyable in the song "Cabaret," but she seems strongly in need of staging direction as the number is stagnant.

Michael Donello does an admirable job as Herr Schultz, though he is probably close to 20 years too young for the role. His understanding of the role is very clear in his portrayal, but, despite his promising acting skills, it is awkward seeing him play against a Fraulein Schneider old enough to be his mother.

Ryan Michael Owens, who plays Cliff, has a slightly nerdy, bookish charm to his looks, and a surprisingly lovely lyric voice in "Don't Go." Jeanne McKinnon, who plays Fraulein Schneider, seems most in control of her characterization when in song, such as in "It Couldn't Please Me More," but slips in and out of her German accent and her character a bit too much in her acting scenes. The same slipping in and out of accent and character happens with Carlo Sabusap as Max and Erin Pittleman as Fraulein Kost as well. These issues weaken the potential strength of a production that succeeds in other areas such as pacing and style. The first act flies by even though it is over an hour and a half, and the staging of the ending of the show is unexpectedly poignant.

Cabaret's book, compellingly written by Joe Maseroff, stands on its own, even without the music of Kander and Ebb. However, the cleverly written music by the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb makes clear the commentary in songs such as "What Would You Do?" and "If You Could See Her." The first song is plaintively sung by Fraulein Schneider as she determines to break her engagement to her Jewish fiancé. The second is a comically sung explanation of why the Emcee loves his girlfriend despite the fact that she is Jewish.

The collaborative works of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb include the musicals Cabaret, Chicago, Woman of the Year, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Rink, Zorba, 70, Girls, 70, The Happy Time and the films New York, New York and Funny Lady.

This Entr'Acte Theatrix production of Cabaret will be appearing in the Count de Hoernle Theatre of the Caldwell Theatre Company through October 24, 2010. Performance times are Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $30 each for Center Circle seats and $25 for all others. If available, a special $10 Student Rush price will be offered on day of show. For groups of 15 or more, the price per ticket is $20, with the 16th ticket free. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Caldwell Theatre box office at 561.241.7432 or online at www.caldwelltheatre.com or at www.entractetheatrix.org.

Entr'Acte Theatrix is a brand new offshoot of the Palm Beach Principal Players, which started 10 years ago and targeted high school and college students interested in musical theater but who had limited opportunities to perform. Over the last decade, Principal Players has presented 16 different shows featuring more than 200 young people, many of whom have gone on to professional careers or top educational programs. Because these young but "seasoned" performers still need opportunities to work with top professionals and begin their professional careers with impressive resumes and a network of industry contacts, Entr'Acte Theatrix was formed. The company's goal is to produce shows aimed toward a young, hipper audience and present them at some of the finest professional houses in Palm Beach County, exposing the young performers to both sophisticated audiences and the staff and management of these venues. Entr'Acte Theatrix is a subsidiary of the Peter and Vicki Halmos Family Foundation. Neither organization is affiliated with the Caldwell Theatre Company.

The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. The Caldwell Theatre Company is designated by the State of Florida as a Cultural Institution and receives funding from the State of Florida through the Florida Department of State, the Florida Arts Council and the Division of Cultural Affairs. The Caldwell Theatre Company is located in the Count De Hoernle Theatre at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida.

Cast:
Emcee: Shane Blanford
Sally Bowles: Leah Sessa
Clifford Bradshaw: Ryan Michael Owens
Fraulein Schneider: Jeanne McKinnon
Herr Schultz: Michael Donello
Ernst Ludwig: Zachary Schwartz
Fraulein Kost: Erin Pittleman
Max; Carlo Sabusap
Kit Kat Girls/ Female Ensemble: Mia Paloma, Alana Armstrong, Joanna Mandel, Lissen Ellington, Zultari Gomez, Del Marrero
Kit Kat Boys/ Male Ensemble: Frank Vomero, Ethan Eichenbaum, Matthew Tarantino, Roger Dunson, Jr.

Crew:
Director/Choreographer: Kimberly Dawn Smith
Musical Director: Evan Ferrar
Scenic Design: Mikel Gambuto
Lighting Design: Tracie Woods
Sound Design: Chas Gerber
Costumes: Matthew Tarantino and Maja Kaczmarska
Stage Manager: Cathy Goldsmith  


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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