Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
For what works best, look no further than Laura Michelle Kelly as Sally Bowles. Wearing a blonde wig and looking more than a little worse for the wear, Kelly gives a gritty performance and her singing is wonderful, culminating in a standout rendition of the title number in the second half of the show. Kelly is generally partnered with Rob Barnes, who plays Cliff and is good as he can be, though he is hurt by not having a full-out number of his own. The relationship between Sally and Cliff does ring true, however, and one does care about these characters.
In other parts, Jonathan Brody brings a lightness and an appeal to Herr Schultz, and the actor shines in such songs as "It Couldn't Please Me More" and "Married." His partner in these numbers is Dee Hoty, who is emotionally overwhelming as Fraulein Schneider. If she is confident in her opening song "So What?," she is quite devastating by the time she delivers the heartbreaking "What Would You Do?." I have seen Hoty to great advantage in such shows as Follies, City of Angels, and The Will Rogers Follies, and she has only grown stronger as an actress, giving one of her finest performances in this production.
Leslie Blake Walker is very funny as Fraulein Kost and Aidan Marchetti is genuinely frightening as Ernst Ludwig, delivering a terrific rendition of the first act finale song, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." The supporting company does well, too, particularly in the dance numbers, cunningly choreographed by Christopher d'Amboise.
The design elements are all completely appropriate, with especially atmospheric lighting by Timothy Reed, and there is a divine onstage orchestra, superbly led by musical director Ken Clifton.
If something keeps this production from being as strong as it can be, it mostly centers on the way Forrest McClendon has been directed as the Emcee. In a role that should dominate, McClendon unfortunately sometimes fades into the background in the big numbers, leaving his character as more of an observer than a leading player. Still, he sings and dances with a lot of style and punch, and looks right for the role, though director Scott LaFeber may be at fault for not bringing this potent character to the forefront. By the time of Cliff's final speech, right before the finale, Cabaret at Connecticut Repertory Theatre is able to summon up the terrifying atmosphere of pre-war Berlin, which ultimately feels all too relevant in contemporary times.
Cabaret, through July 21, 2019, at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, 820 Bolton Rd #1127, Storrs CT. For tickets and information, please visit crt.uconn.edu or call the box office at 860-486-2113.