Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Blank Canvas
Review by Mark Horning

Also see Mark's review of Light the Lights, Ol' Moses Cle! (A Wild Holiday Romp)

Tasha Brandt, Devon Turchan, and David Turner
Photo by Andy Dudik
Surprisingly, the hot ticket for this holiday season is not a festive show in any respect. The Blank Canvas production of Cabaret has nearly sold out all of its performances and has even added a Sunday, December 18, show at 7 p.m. There is a reason for this. It is an extremely well conceived, directed (Patrick Ciamacco), and executed production with a message that speaks especially to our current times.

It is Berlin, Germany, 1929. The world is teetering on the brink of what will be known as the Great Depression. Outside, banks are failing, vital loans from America are being called back, factories are closing, the strong German middle class is being wiped out and Adolf Hitler and his henchmen are poised for their 1930 democratic run to take over the Reichstag, eventually plunging the country into a totalitarian dictatorship and ultimately a devastating world war.

But in the Kit Kat Klub, life is beautiful ... the girls are beautiful ...even the band is beautiful.

The Kit Kat Klub is the epicenter of decadent Berlin. Lorded over by the androgynous Emcee, the song and dance numbers are designed to give the audience exactly what they want, whether they know what that is or not. At first the bits are of a purely sexual nature ("Don't Tell Mama," "Two Ladies"), but soon the overtones of the street take over as the patently anti-semitic "If You Could See Her" and "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" bring a hint of the terror to come.

After the opening number, "Willkommen," the show introduces naïve American traveler Clifford Bradshaw (Noah Hrbek) who is on his way to Berlin in the hopes of finding suitable material for a new novel. On the train from Paris he meets businessman Ernst Ludwig (Stuart Hoffman) who is secretly running a smuggling operation that is aiding the fledgling Nazi party.

Unlike the popular movie, the stage production is much more open about Bradshaw's gayness. Another change is the sidebar relationship of Bradshaw's new landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Bernadette Hisey), and Jewish shop owner Herr Schultz (John J. Polk), who sees himself as a German first and a Jew second. The relationship is allowed to bloom on stage only to be broken up by Fraulein Schneider's fear of repercussions from the growing Nazi party.

Clifford ends up at the Kit Kat Klub where he meets headliner Sally Bowles (Tricia Bestic) who, after being fired at the club, ends up moving in with Clifford and getting pregnant. Clifford, who is now part of Ludwig's smuggling ring (not realizing where the money is going), finds himself in a maelstrom as he learns of Sally's pregnancy, Ludwig's Nazi leanings and Fraulein Schneider's decision as the country goes off the rails.

It is the show's shocking and raw nerve ending that really sets this production apart, as the Kit Kat Girls, the Kit Kat Boys, and the Emcee (all who had supported the Nazis) are rounded up and squeezed into a concentration camp type setting because of their decadent lifestyles that go against the grain of the pure Aryan race model.

Noah Hrbek as Clifford Bradshaw perfectly underplays the part of starving writer on the brink of success. Stuart Hoffman is excellent as Ernst Ludwig the businessman turned Nazi sympathizer who is slow to show his hand but eventually ends his velvet glove approach with the use of brute force. Tricia Bestic shines as Sally Bowles, belting out the songs that make this show so easily memorable.

Bernadette Hisey as Fraulein Schneider and John J. Polk as Herr Schultz work wonderfully together as two mature lovers whose dreams of an idyllic life together are dashed by the prejudice of the times. Lastly, there is Devon Turchan as the Emcee who rules his tiny decadent cabaret universe with an iron fist. He is at times delicate and at others brazen, but at all times entertaining—even up to the final horrifying scene.

Special mention must be made of three groups involved in this production. The Kit Kat Girls and Kit Kat Boys hit the stage scantily clad and, while their bodies are selling sex, their eyes show the world weary boredom of performers who sell naughty for a living. And the eight-piece orchestra (although dressed in rather distracting modern clothing) do an amazing job with some of the most well known songs in performance history.

This is a mature adult themed show that, while socially relevant (especially in today's times), may be too intense for children. Adult themes and brief nudity abound.

Even the festive holiday season cannot overcome the dark clouds of the political season. Cabaret, nonetheless, is the perfect choice for what has been an angry and highly contested election year that will take a lot of time to resolve—if it does at all. The show illustrates the delicate balance of democracy and the effects on everyday people when leaders are elected by what they say and not by their political experience.

Cabaret, through December 18, 2016, at Blank Canvas Theatre, 1305 West 78th Street, Cleveland. Limited tickets may still be available for the December 18, 7 p.m. performance at Otherwise, you can take your chance at the box office prior to any performance for unsold tickets. Blank Canvas has posted “In the event that a show is sold out, we do reserve a few seats for walk-ins and will sell any unclaimed tickets five minutes after curtain time. We will start a wait list for these tickets 45 minutes prior to curtain each night. You must be present at the box office to sign up. No phone calls will be accepted for these tickets.”

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