Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Santa Fe Playhouse
Review by Mark Dunn

Also see Billy's review of Bewitched, Bothered, and Belittled and Frances' review of Marriage by the Masters and Rob's review of American Idiot

Christine Smith, Lee Manship Vignes, and Myriah Duda
Photo by Lynn Roylance
There are ten reasons to go see Santa Fe Playhouse's new production of Cabaret. The first and perhaps most obvious is that this 1966 musical, based on John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera, itself taken from Christopher Isherwood's novel "Goodbye to Berlin," still packs a big punch. Its great book by Joe Masteroff, superb lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander provide a template for all the elements that make for an exciting evening at the theater, each of which is wonderfully achieved in Santa Fe Playhouse's finely crafted production.

Reason #2: Incredibly imaginative choreography by Patrick MacDonald. Here I'm not talking about one or two stand-alone kick-lines or tap-dancing spotlight numbers. A choice has been made to put this show literally on its feet from start to finish. The result is more terpsichorean magic and invention than you've seen on a Santa Fe stage in a long time, as Berlin's decadent Kit Kat Klub becomes a locus for deliciously erotic and stylized physical human interaction.

Reason #3: Ann Roylance's pitch-perfect performance as American expat writer Clifford Bradshaw's landlady, Fraulein Schneider, the actress bringing exquisite comic timing and poignant humanity to her character. The production (and its audience!) is lucky to have Ms. Roylance mounting the boards for this show, the most recent ratification of a long and successful career on the musical theater stage. Ann's scenes with her character's paramour, the Panglossian Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz, tenderly realized by Ken Bordner, are special moments of hope in a play that hangs its cloud of oppression and foreboding over the stage throughout.

Reason #4: Dylan Norman's voice. Unfortunately for this show, Messrs. Kander and Ebb haven't written enough for this enormously talented 20-year-old to sing. We have to wait a full 45 minutes before Norman's Clifford is finally allowed to open his mouth and display his incredible vocal chops. He's a gifted actor, as well—his youth infusing his portrayal with just the right amount of wide-eyed innocence and ingenuousness.

Reason #5: Cheryl Odom's costume design: sexy, even raunchy, and period perfect, giving us an accurate and aesthetically exciting look at how the waning days of the great Weimar Freiheit experiment was togged: farewell to the flapper and hello to militarism and the frayed economic deprivation of the German Depression of the 1930s.

Reason #6: Lee Manship Vignes's Master of Ceremonies (Emcee). He isn't giving us Joel Grey. He isn't giving us Alan Cumming. Lee has made the part his very own: naughty, ambisexual, wise Greek chorus, and smirking pimp all rolled into one. Lee successfully breaks the fourth wall and brings the audience figuratively right up on stage, with a conspiratorial wink and leer and a fantastically gifted voice.

Reason #7: Michael Blake Oldham's set design, which evokes period and place while allowing for smooth transitions between the Kit Kat Klub and settings outside the cabaret. Annie Haynes contributes to Oldham's well-wrought visit to seedy Berlin with a lighting design that, while mysteriously dusky, never leaves its characters in inconvenient darkness.

Reason #8: Literally everything about Katie Hagan's performance as Sally Bowles. Incredible shoes to fill, these, and Katie fills every inch of them, even successfully reminding us that Sally Bowles was once a Brit, before Liza Minnelli Americanized the character. My only complaint is that—also in contrast to the iconic film adaptation—the script could have spent more time exploring Sally's character (she remains somewhat of a mystery to us even by play's end) if only for the chance to see Katie take Sally even further into the recesses of her paradoxically self-abusing and self-protective dance with the world.

Reason #9: An acting ensemble with either deliberate or coincidental resemblance to the proverbial Hollywood office of central casting. In ensemble member Christine Smith we have Louise Brooks by way of Catherine Zeta-Jones. Terri Scullin reminds this reviewer of Kander and Ebb veteran Ann Reinking. Tristan Van Cleave is even Rolfier than the Rolf of the film version of The Sound of Music. And John H. Reiser as Ernst Ludwig gives us every Nazi in sheep's clothing we've come to love and hate in theater and film.

Reason #10: Director Vaughn Irving's expert ability to take everything familiar about this 50-year-old musical and its successful film adaptation and set it aside, creating in its place a fresh and underivative approach to this story and its characters. Irving has proven time and time again his skill at fresh conceptualization. But he's also one hell of a large-cast traffic cop and big-picture painter. It's hard to know where to look when the stage is so richly populated with characters who hardly ever stand around and observe, but are constantly reacting and exploring their environment, while embroidering the mise en scène.

Don't come to this show expecting to see the movie you've always loved. Bob Fosse's film version of Cabaret eliminated all but six of the songs from the stage musical. Which is unfortunate in a way, but also fortunate in that Irving and his talented cast and enjoyably scruffy-sounding onstage band led by Judson Seely are able to offer us songs and dance numbers that are perfect vehicles for creating a story about a society which, just like Sally Bowles, tried very hard not to think about the monster at the front door.

There's a line in the play that sums things up nicely: "This whole city ... [is] so tacky and terrible, and everyone is having such a good time." It's not hard to see what a good time the thirty-two people who put this show together had bringing it to all of us, and I've given you ten good reasons to make your reservation today. Don't make me give you the other twenty.

Cabaret, directed by Vaughn Irving, is being performed at the Santa Fe Playhouse, 142 East De Vargas Street, Santa Fe. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Through August 6, 2017. Info at or 505-988-4262. The running time is around 2 ½ hours; there is one intermission.

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