Saturday, October 27, 2012

Luke's Reviews: Cabaret

I love Joel Grey, Alan Cumming, Bob Fosse, John Kander, and Fred Ebb, so by all accounts and purposes I should love Cabaret.  However, for some reason I don't.  Or at least I didn't.  But the production by Kennesaw State University that I saw a few nights ago made me see the show in an entirely new light, and breathed a life into it that I never knew it had.  Some of the content in the show was, as I expected, a bit risque for my tastes, and there was some unappreciated language.  But this is one of the few shows where I walked out thinking that every, "nasty" aspect was absolutely necessary.  The grit, the dirt, and the smut of the show was all absolutely necessary and absolutely powerful.  I always told people that Cabaret is interesting because the songs have nothing to do with the plot, I learned at this performance that that is not true at all (shame on you 1972 movie for disillusioning me so).  The songs were powerful, purposeful, and doggone catchy.  Not only that, but the performers were superb, the set was exciting, the costumes evocative, even the lighting was noticeably commendable. So I say bravo to Kennesaw State University and their mind-changing production of:

The Show
As I said before, I just didn't like Cabaret.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, the show is about life in Germany as Hitler was rising to power.  We see this troubled time through the eyes of, an American writer, a British lounge singer, a German Jew, a Nazi sympathizer, and a disturbingly perverted Emcee (among others).  This plot line is underscored by the songs sung in the Kit-Kat club, a popular haunt for those in Germany who love to party.  It was written by theater legends John Kander and Fred Ebb (Chicago, Curtains, & The Scottsboro Boys).  The original production of the show won 8 Tony Awards (including best score and best musical) and the 1998 revival won 4 more (Including best Revival and three of the four actor awards).  This revival also has the honor of being the third longest running revival in Broadway history (behind Oh! Calcutta and Chicago).  As for the cast they are mostly people who aren't too famous (with the exception of the 1972 movie in which the lead roles of Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw were played by Hollywood stars Liza Minnelli and Micheal York) except for the role of the Emcee.  It seems just about everyone has played the Emcee at one time or another.  Joel Grey (Wicked, 2011 Revival of Anything Goes) who originated the role in a Tony Award winning performance, Alan Cumming (who was propelled to stardom with this role), "my buddy Raul" Esparza (Leap of Faith, Tick...Tick...Boom, 2006 Revival of Company), Adam Pascal (RENT, Aida), Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can), Johnathan Price (Miss Saigon), Neil Patrick Harris (2004 Revival of Assassins, 2012 Revival of Company), John Stamos (known for his TV work on ER and Full House), and countless others have played the Emcee at one point or another.  After seeing the show I absolutely understand why, the role is so juicy and I also see why the show was such a success.

The Production Team:

  • SET DESIGN -- The set was actually really cool.  The stage was pretty much the set-up of the nightclub where most of the musical numbers took place.  There were tables on the stage (both for actors and audience members to sit in), a wooden stage (on top of the actual stage) and a spiral staircase leading to a balcony type thing where some members of the orchestra played.  But the coolest part of the set were the doors.  Behind this stage and below the scaffolding balcony, there were a series of doors that were hung from a track that they could slide on and off stage.  It's tough to describe, but it made the scene changes kind of exciting actually.  The set was really good for the cast size there was, nobody ever seemed cramped, and the staged didn't swallow up the actors when there were only a few of them on.  It was really one of the best, most inventive sets I've seen in a long time.
  • COSTUME DESIGN -- I was actually really impressed with the costumes.  The Kit-kat Girls' costumes weren't great (I wouldn't want my sister wearing one), but they weren't as bad as they really could have been.  The Emcees costume (or should I say, the 10-20 he had to wear throughout the show) was really cool and, what impressed me the most, not exactly like either of the Broadway productions.  Aside from those the costumes were mostly period, and nothing really noteworthy (except for the Gorilla suit...which was a nice touch).
  • LIGHTING DESIGN -- Usually the lighting is nothing too exciting, but in this production I really noticed it because it added to the scenes.  For one thing, the reddish tint that illuminated the stage during most of Sally's and Emcee's songs, helped to differentiate whether we were in the Kit-kat club or a small German apartment   I also loved that on the final beat of the show (If you've heard the finale you know it ends on a huge orchestration note) the entire stage was lit up as if no show was going on at all.  It was so great in showing how "the cabaret" was over and real life was going to have to start.  But by far the best lighting moment in the show was in the Act I finale.  I can't really describe it much, but the lights would flash at the audience and the entire ensemble would stomp in sync and it had this incredibly powerful, suspense-building building effect that left the entire audience enraptured.
  • EVERYTHING ELSE -- The other production elements of this show were good, but didn't necessarily stand out.  The choreography was good, but the songs and the setting don't really lend themselves to big dance numbers.  The blocking was also good, but the best blocking doesn't look like blocking at all, so it doesn't really stand out when you watch the show.  I should point out that one really good blocking choice was the curtain call.  The way it was staged, none of the actors smiled, waved, or looked at all happy to have taken part in the horror of the finale (if you've seen the finale of the show you'll know why).  It gave the audience time to reflect on the scene that just took place and was really a chilling effect.
The Cast:

  • Chase T. (Emcee) -- I loved this guy even before he opened his mouth.  The little slot in the door opened and we saw his eyes peeking out and I'm thinking "oooooooh, this could be awesome".  Then he began singing "Wilkomen" and I just wanted to stand up and applaud right there.  Every second he was on stage (whether he was in the spot light or not) made the show better.  His voice was spectacular, but it was his acting and his unbridled energy and courage on stage that was so amazing to watch.  Honestly, one of the best scenes in the entire show is when he simply sat on the darkened stage (with a spotlight around him) and listened to a little boy sing on a phonograph.  It was so beautiful, and so haunting watching his face and what this song meant to him.  Even the stark changes of his character from the absurdity of "If You Could See Her", to the passion of "I Don't Care Much", to the intensity of the "Finale" were just spellbinding.  After being blown away by his performance, I did some internet stalking (it's what I do) and found that he isn't currently a student at KSU (I think he was at one point, but I can't back that up).  He is officially a "professional actor" having done several professional shows including the National Tour of Shrek: The Musical.  But even with his success it appears he keeps coming back to KSU (which is why I think he may be an alumni) where he's played roles like Bobby Strong [Urinetown] and Edgar [Batboy].  I know that I will definitely make it to every KSU performance I can if it means I can see Chase in another show, the man is just wonderful!
  • Sarah P. (Sally Bowles) -- I had the pleasure of seeing Sarah in the Kerrigan and Lowdermilk concert I went to a few weeks ago, so I was really excited to see her in Cabaret.  Her voice was really good, her accent constant, and she played the part masterfully.  Of course her singing was spectacular (She finally made me like the song "Cabaret"), but my favorite moments were when she wasn't singing, just verbally sparing with Cliff.  She was quick with her lines and her physicality was excellent.  And I do need to mention her emotional performance of the song "Cabaret", it was so moving and one of the most powerful moments in the show.  Excellent job Sarah.
  • Russell M. (Cliff Bradshaw) -- The role of Cliff is interesting because it's one of the smallest leading men roles I've ever seen.  He only sings one song (and a reprise towards the end), but the entire plot-line of the story focuses around him.  So I can't really say much for his singing or dancing talents, but his acting was great.  He knew when to be awkward and when to explode with emotion.  The scene where he calls out Sally in the Kit-Kat club (despite having the worst language of the show) was really strong and left the audience a bit in awe.  And then there's that line.  At the end of the show he delivers this line that encompasses the entire show (unfortunately I can't find it in it's entirety on the internet and I would hate to misquote it, but if you've seen the show then you know what I'm talking about).  Anyway, he delivered this line superbly, with just the right bewildered and tired expression that left you feeling sorry for him, and the rest of Germany.
  • Barbara G. (Fraulein Schneider) -- I had seen Barbara in the Kerrigan and Lowdermilk masterclass, but I think she was much stronger here.  She has a good belting voice, and you can really see the emotion in her face.  Unfortunately, I felt like some of her songs kind of drug on.  I think this is likely the writing instead of the acting, for she did a great job, but her songs were a bit repetitive and I found myself getting a bit bored.  Her singing was great, and her plot line was one of my favorites, but I just don't have too many good things to say about her simply because of her character.
  • Terry P. (Herr Schultz) -- Terry did an excellent job in this role, but I don't know that it fit him exactly.  For one thing, his accent was the only one that I could hear slip now and then (for the most part everyone's accents were really impressive), and his voice, while spectacular, didn't really seem to fit his character.  I almost felt that he was too good a singer, or at least too polished.  Visually, he played the role great.  His walk, his face, and they way he carried himself was excellent, and I really enjoyed his performance, I just felt like he has more talent than this role allowed him to display.
  • Caleb M. (Ernst Ludwig) -- I'm going to be honest, Caleb was one of my favorites in the show.  For one thing, his accent was the best, never for a moment did it slip.  But what I liked about him was how comfortable he was, he was given a bit of an intense character that many people (myself included) would be inclined to overact.  But Caleb just kept this joyful subtlety the entire show.  None of his lines were forced and when the time came for him to be intense, it made the contrast even more affecting.
  • Avery R. (Fraulein Kost) -- For the longest time I couldn't figure out why this character was in the show at all, but now I think I understand.  Kost really encompasses where Sally is going, and where she could end up if she isn't careful.  Kost isn't a villain in the show, but a solemn reminder.  With that in mind I really enjoyed Avery's portrayal of the character.  Her singing was honestly underused.  She had a really beautiful soprano voice, which unfortunately isn't demanded very highly in this show.  But her one song (which I think was almost entirely in German, that or she has horrible diction :P) was beautifully sung.  Although she wasn't really crucial to the story, she made a possibly forgettable role stand out.  Congratulations Avery.
  • The Kit-Kat Girls don't really have much individuality or characters in the show, but they sing the songs that carry the plot.  I would like to point out that all of these girls were excellent.  I love the fact that before the show even started they were mingling (in character) with a few members of the audience as they would random patrons at their club.  During the actual performance they were solid.  I feel like the dancing was probably their most impressive feat ("Mein Herr" must have been very uncomfortable physically).  They also did really well (WAY better than I would've done) at being comfortable on stage.  I'm sure at least a few of them had to get used to the kinds of things they had to do, but they didn't look the least bit uncomfortable (the same cannot be said for the audience at certain parts).
  • The Kit-Kat Boys -- I have great respect for these guys.  I mean, guys get made fun of for being in the theater anyway, and when you're forced to roles like these it doesn't help that.  They did look a bit uncomfortable at times, but that is absolutely understandable.  I actually saw one of them walking around campus the other day and considered saying hi but figured it might be a bit embarrassing, but, in case he's reading this, "Hi Logan V.  Excellent job!"
I once had someone tell me that the first show they ever saw on Broadway was Cabaret (when she were 5!) and it was her favorite show to this day.  I thought she was insane.  I didn't see how anyone, especially a child, could appreciate, much less enjoy the grit and sleaze that I thought made up the entire show.  Now I understand.  I can't quite say that it's my favorite, but I now have a great respect for Cabaret and I would certainly see it again if another group decides to put it on.  KSU's cast was able to take a show that I actively disliked and made every line, and every lyric so new and different than I thought they were.  I've never had a single performance change my opinion of a show so much, so a massive BRAVO to KSU's company of Cabaret!

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