“Cabaret” with Book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Deuten and stories by Christopher Isherwood with Music by John Kander and Lyrics by Fred Ebb is presently playing at Slayton House, in the Wilde Lake Village Center, Columbia, MD. This production is Directed by Stephen Foreman and Produced by Jeremy Goldman.
“Cabaret” is a classic Broadway musical. I had the privilege of seeing the 1966 original production and then the revival in the late 1990s. The first version clearly dealt with the rise of anti-Semitism and the brutality of the Nazis. The second version was definitely more open about sexuality and clearly makes the point that it was not only Jews who were targeted but gays as well. The Third Reich was known to patronize nightclubs like the Kit Kat Club. Many of the pro-Hitler patrons were often actively involved with gays and prostitutes, but later, these Gestapo had no trouble rounding up homosexuals, along with the Jews, gypsies, Communists and others they did not want soiling their Aryan race.
“Cabaret” is a tremendous undertaking for any theatre group not only due to the fact that the music and lyrics are well known and thus there are expectations by the audience, but because there are strong political and social themes. These themes are very important to study again at this time of political polarity in this country and the rise of overt white supremacy worldwide. The point of “Cabaret” is that the German people were not all bad, but many closed their eyes to what was happening or hoped it would all go away soon.
Silhouette Stages is up to the assignment. This version is based on the grittier 1997 revival. The dancers are sexy, earthy and totally believable.
If you have never seen “Cabaret,” this production should be high on your list of things to see this Spring. It will be most memorable and leave you inspired.
The role of the Emcee played masterfully by Tommy Malek, is a perfect case in point. The two men who created the role on Broadway in the original and the revivals, Joel Grey and Alan C. have almost become synonymous with the role. Malek has made this role his own. He is both charmingly beckoning in the opening number “Willkommen” and vulgar “Two Ladies.” He adds both humor “The Money Song” and insights “I Don’t Care Much” into the musical. Malek who also serves as Artistic Director for SS has many standout performances for SS and other theatres, but as the Emcee his performance has a brilliance that the audience will long remember.
Megan Mostow plays Sally Bowles, the English chanteuse at the Kit Kat Club. Sally has slept her way to the bottom. Her love life has gone from bad to worse, and her show business career as well. when she meets the young American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Seth Fallon). Cliff and Sally have a complicated affair. (Sally is probably the metaphor for the government of Neville Chamberlain who were willing to continue working with the Nazis, knew what was happening in Germany but for their own needs accepted the Third Reich.) Mostow does a fine job conveying Sally’s ambiguity. She also gives us an insight into her heart with the emotional song “Maybe This Time,” and has our feet tapping during the title song, “Cabaret.”
Fallon fleshes out Bradshaw who is torn not just by his own sexual identity as we see him kiss one of the Kit Kat boys and then fall for Sally. We also see him as he becomes a man as he stands up for his beliefs. His song with Sally, “Perfectly Marvelous” is light, witty and well performed.
Pamela Northrup plays Fräulein Schneider, a middle-aged boarding house owner where Clifford and Sally live. Schneider has had a life of survival as she has lived through wars and a horrible depression in Berlin. Christopher Kabara plays Herr Schultz, a fruit shop owner about the same age, with whom the landlady falls in love, possibly for the first time for both. Their sweet romance is in contrast to the lewd overt sexuality of the people from the Kit Kat Club and Schneider’s renter, Fräulein “Fritzie” Kost (Linda Michele). It also contrasts with the hot and heavy romance of Cliff and Sally. Northrup and Kabara have wonderful chemistry, and both convey the joy their characters bring to each other as friends at first “You Couldn’t Please Me More” and then, for want of a better term, sweethearts, “Married.” Schultz is Jewish and we know right away this will cause problems for them both. When they realize that they have to make decisions about their future as the Nazis invade their lives, Northrup’s “What Would You Do?” is full of anger and pain. Both actors make these characters win our hearts.
In supporting roles, Michele is tarty and devious as Kost. Brad Davis is Cliff’s new found friend and benefactor, Ernst Ludwig. Davis convinces us at first that he is there to help his new friend, but when he reveals his Nazi affiliation, we are a first horrified then angry. Davis expertly plays the villain and he and Michele bring chills to our spines as they sing the Nazi “anthem,” “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise).” (The song is often thought to be from the era of the Third Reich even by present-day Neo-Nazis, but was written by Kander and Ebb.)
Rew Garner does a winning job as Max the owner of the Kit Kat Club, misogynist and sex trafficker. I can’t say enough about the Kit Kat Club performers, Felicia Howard as Rosie, Briana Arielle Downs as Lulu, Katie Jones as Frenchie, Miranda Austin Tharp as Texas, Lauren Romano as Helga, Angel Duque as Bobby, Chris Weaver as Victor, Nick Carter as Herman, and Garner as Hans. Several play other roles as well. Gabriel Viets characterization of the German Youth is disquieting. Katie Jones’ dancing gorilla is funny and chilling in Act II.
Foreman’s direction captures the essence of the plot and his musical numbers with the support of Musical Director Michael Tan’s sensational live Orchestra and Choreographer Amie Bell, whose dancers conveying tawdry sexuality with often graphic sexual poses brings us back to the rise of Hitler in 1931 Berlin. Foreman and Alex Porter’s set puts the Kit Kat Club right in our laps. They do this by having an extra thrust piece in the center front stage for the nightclub performances and cabaret tables for some of the audience. This helps immerse us in the environment of the Berlin club. (In NYC they actually used the nightclub Studio 54 for the show.) Foreman’s staging of the final scene is breathtaking.
The Lighting Design by TJ Lukacsina is superb. He helps create mood and ambiance and keeps his actors lit when they are in the audience.
Costume Design is by Clare Kneebone and Amy Bell, assisted by Tommy Malek. Kneebone is credited with the Make-up Design and Malek Wig Design. The costumes not only have to be time sensitive but have to make the men and women of the club look sexy and lascivious. Kneebone and Malek succeed in conveying this seamy part of 1931 Berlin nightlife.
If you have never seen “Cabaret,” this production should be high on your list of things to see this Spring. It will be most memorable and leave you inspired. If you have seen “Cabaret,” you will not be disappointed in the show. Tommy Malek’s portrayal of the Emcee should not be missed.
Advisory: This production contains depictions of Nazis, sexual situations, and drug use, in an effort to accurately represent Weimar, Germany in the 1930s.
Running time: Two hours and thirty minutes with an intermission.
Cabaret plays through Sunday, June 2, 2019 at Silhouette Stages performing at Slayton House Theatre in Wilde Lake Village Center— 10400 Cross Fox Lane, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or purchase them online.