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 obliviously upbeat and callow, and Joel Grey as the Kit Kat Klub Emcee is mischievously naughty and puppet like. Film director Bob Fosse managed to keep the same feel for the show as original Broadway director, Harold Prince, despite some plot revisions. The Broadway revival of Cabaret, directed by Sam Mendes, took a slightly different approach to show. Again, this version has some song and plot changes from the original. But, more memorably, 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 tattered prostitutes. And the choreography was made more vulgar and sexual. The Stage Door Theatre's performance of Cabaret is a respectable production of the revival version of Cabaret; and they have managed to soften just enough of the choreography's graphic nature to make it more palatable to a local market.
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 would-be author from America in search of his first novel in 1929 Germany. Cliff finds a troubled but charming cabaret singer from England in a troubled but charming club in Berlin, all amidst the pivotal historical backdrop of the rise of the Third Reich. He is conflicted both by his sexuality and his political conscience, and Sally by her unwillingness to assign meaning to all that is going on around her. The doom of their relationship is mirrored by the one between their elderly boarding house owner and her Jewish suitor, as they face the impending Nazi regime and their new life together ahead.
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 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." Cleverly written music by team John Kander and Fred Ebb make clear the piece's intent in songs "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 fiancee. The second is a comically sung explanation of why the Emcee loves his girlfriend despite the fact that she is Jewish. Cabaret's book, compelling written by Joe Maseroff, cannot be diminished by even its memorable music and choreography.
The Stage Door Theatre, in Coral Springs, has staged the show on a fitting set. The dark and gaudy mix together well. Scantily clad Kit Kat Klub Girls and Boys dancing with lasciviousness and ennui frame the cabaret's stars. Ilana Meredith as Sally Bowles and Ryan Hagget as The Emcee both turn in solid performances. Miss Meredith is probably the first actress I have seen in the part that remembers she is English the whole time. I prefer the character played a bit more controlling and less pouty, however. Ryan Hagget is well cast in a difficult role; his vocals remaining strong throughout, though his character comes across more homosexual than the desired ambiguously sexual. And James Cichewicz gives a good performance as American Clifford Bradshaw. The star of this show for me, however, is Sheila Allen as Fraulein Schneider. She embodied her character in a way that drew me to her character's story more than ever have before. A fine job!
Cabaret will be appearing at The Stage Door Theatre through July 3, 2005. 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 as well as their 26th Street Theatre location in Ft. Lauderdale are open year round. For tickets and information, you may call 954-344-7765.