Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in 1931, Cabaret plays out against scenes set inside the seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub, with a mischievous Emcee overseeing the proceedings of its carefree customers while Hitler's rise to power is happening just outside its doors. American writer Clifford Bradshaw has arrived in Berlin to begin work on his novel. The desperate and recently homeless English Kit Kat Klub headliner Sally Bowles convinces Cliff to let her move in with him, even though they have just met, and they set about forming an interesting living relationship. Cliff's sweet natured landlady, the Fräulein Schneider, forms a relationship of her own with the adorably charming Jewish fruit seller Herr Schultz. And even though Sally believes they have nothing to worry about, and lives her life as if it is a never ending cabaret, the rising Nazi regime is about to change everyone's life in Berlin, and the world is about to come crashing down in ways no one could possibly imagine.
Bookwriter Joe Masteroff, composer John Kander, and lyricist Fred Ebb based the show on both Christopher Isherwood's 1939 novel "Goodbye to Berlin," which told stories of his time living in Berlin around 1930, and John Van Druten's 1951 theatrical adaptation of the novel, I Am a Camera. This updated version adds some songs written for the 1972 film and more fully incorporates the Emcee into the action of the show to help comment and better focus the atrocities that await the characters. It stunningly shows how the horrors that are about to come, and the desperation of the era, culminate in people being unable to comprehend the consequence of just what Hitler's power will have on Germany and ultimately the whole world.
Co-directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall's original direction, recreated by BT McNicholl for the tour, seamlessly moves us from the Kit Kat Klub to the scenes set inside Schneider's boarding house by basically having every moment of the show set in the smoky club and incorporating the chairs, crates, and other set pieces found within to set each scene. They manage to draw sharp, refined performances from the cast. Marshall's choreography, recreated for the tour by Cynthia Onrubia, incorporates various steps, including a bit of a waltz during one song and some high flying kick lines, danced exceptionally well by the resourceful ensemble. Creative elements, modeled directly on the Broadway revival designs, are extremely effective, instilling the proceedings with a dirty, smokey and decadent feeling.
Randy Harrison is playful, mischievous and incredibly fearless as the Emcee. He commands the stage, draws your attention, and pulls you in like a moth to a flame. He employs a realistic German accent and has a clear singing voice, which he uses to great effect for his many songs. His delivery of the ballad "I Don't Care Much" is a stunner, full of emotion and a profound sadness, and his final scene in the show packs a wallop.
Andrea Goss is equally as good as Sally. Her fast-paced line delivery, while a bit difficult to make out occasionally due to her effective, though thick, English accent, works well to show the excitable nature of the character. She effectively gets across Sally's self-obsessed nature and carefree attitude and we can see why she is both a distraction and an inspiration to Cliff as he tries to write his novel about his experiences in Berlin. Her vocal abilities are stellar, with her delivery of the title song growing from the unsteady, uncertain status that Sally has at that point in the show into a powerful roar as she realizes the decision she must make.
As Cliff, Benjamin Eakeley brings an innocent, sweet sincerity to the role. His good looks, strength and charm make it easy to see why Sally and one of the male dancers at the club are romantically interested in Cliff. Mary Gordan Murray and Scott Robertson make a fine couple as Schneider and Schultz. Murray has an exceptional signing voice full of deep, rich tones and a well thought out delivery of her emotional lyrics. Her performance of "What Would You Do?," is especially riveting in how she instills the traits of pain, suffering and regret to paint the picture of this woman who is a survivor, no matter what the circumstances. Robertson is full of charm as the lovable, older Jewish man, yet he also derives a painful and profound sadness from the audience as he shows us how he believes he'll be fine with everything that is going on, just because he is German, even though we know that won't be the case.
This production has a stellar cast and superb direction and creative elements yet it is gritty and raw as it drives home the relevance of the horrors of Nazism, so it may not be for everyone. It is dark, raunchy and shocking, yet has an immediacy in the emotions of the story and how identifiable the situations and circumstances of the characters are and the horrors that await them. "Politics? What does that have to do with us?" is one of Sally's classic lines from the show. It perfectly shows the carefree, complacent attitude that she and so many others had at the time in not believing Hitler's ideas would have any impact on them. So they just go on, continuing to live their lives like a cabaret. In the heated political environment we are experiencing this year and the continued strife around the world that religion and politics unfortunately bring, this musical and the messages it tells are still exceptionally relevant and should serve as a cautionary tale we hope will never be repeated.
Cabaret plays through September 18th, 2016, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480-965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit cabaretmusical.com.
Book: Joe Masteroff
Cast: Emcee: Randy Harrison
Ensemble: Kelsey Beckert, Sarah Bishop, Ryan Denardo, Margaret Dudasik, Lori Eure, Aisling Halpin, Leeds Hill, Andrew Hubacher, Joey Khoury, Tommy Mcdowell, Samantha Shafer, Ryan Denardo, Dani Spieler, Steven Wenslawski