A flash of red light. A marquee blinks to life, as a drum begins to roll. Slowly, the Master of Ceremonies enters, ready to bid audiences “Willkommen” to the night’s entertainment. Thus begins Walt Whitman High School’s gripping production of “Cabaret:” a sparkling story of love, life, and loss in a world where troubles are never quite forgotten.
“Cabaret” is a 1966 musical, with a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff. The original Broadway production won eight Tony awards, including Best Musical, and has inspired several revivals, as well as an Oscar-winning film adaptation. Based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I Am a Camera,” the show is set in Berlin at the end of the Roaring 20s and follows the performers and patrons of the seedy Kit Kat Klub as the shadow of the Third Reich falls over their country, their city, and their club.
Guiding audiences through the world of “Cabaret” was the Emcee, played by the remarkable Ryan Robbins. Humorous, mysterious, and terrifying, Robbins’ layered performance was constantly engaging, and infused with a tangible sense of charisma. Equally talented was Samantha Sanders as Sally Bowles, the Kit Kat Klub’s carefree headliner. Sanders quickly established a vivacious stage presence during Sally’s performances at the club, making moments of vulnerability, such as her begging Cliff (Joseph Akinyoyenu) to let her stay with him, all the more touching in contrast. Sanders also displayed an outstanding range of emotion through song, from the vitriolic venom of “Mein Herr” to the bittersweet longing of “Maybe This Time.” The peak of Sanders’ performance, however, was the titular “Cabaret,” in which striking facial expressions and powerful vocals conveyed Sally’s abject terror at the world she’d trapped herself in.
Also notable was Joseph Akinyoyenu’s Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer who falls in love with Sally. Initially awkward and endearing, Akinyoyenu deftly portrayed Cliff’s transition to anger, desperation, and grief as he came to realize the horrors of Nazi regime. And not to be missed was the ensemble of cabaret performers, whose limitless energy truly brought the show to life. Their cohesive movement and clear vocal harmonies made for some of the show’s most memorable moments, such as the sinister “Money” and the haunting “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”
Contributions by Walt Whitman’s tech crews further enhanced the production. Mia Scheetz, Sky Smith, and the Whitman Props Team provided several versatile pieces, such as a picture frame used to suggest a room, a vanity mirror, and a train window. Lighting designs by Ella Gontkovic, Alyssa Hodor, and the Whitman Lighting Team were similarly inspired, and included the intentional use of shadow to create moments of intimacy and depth. Their designs also featured several unique light sources, such as floor lamps, footlights, and a marquee for the Kit Kat Klub (a collaboration between the light team and set designers Caroline Melmed, Skai Glasser, Radhika Hasnain, and Anisa Sanders). Costumes by Katelyn Leonard, Jasper Murray, Annie Rivers, and the Whitman Costumes Team clearly communicated each character’s personality, especially ensemble members, and included signs of wear and tear suggesting the poverty of the period.
All in all, the students of Walt Whitman High School have reached beyond the glitz and glamour of “Cabaret” to create an unflinchingly honest performance. With talented performers and captivating tech, this extraordinary production is one audiences will remember long after the denizens of the Kit Kat Klub have said “Auf wiedersehen, au bientot.”
The performance reviewed was presented on Saturday, February 20, 2024.
Review submitted by by McKenzie Phelan of Quince Orchard High School.