The Theatre Lab lived up to its reputation as one of the most beloved and well-respected acting training grounds in the DC metro area with its teen production of Cabaret, directed by Caroline Angell and music directed by Joshua Coyne. The Theatre Lab’s Musical Theatre Institute for Teens brought the timeless and eternally relevant musical to life with fresh interpretations and compelling performances that made for an enthralling and provocative night of theatre.
Cabaret, with book by Joe Masteroff and music by the celebrated composing duo of John Kander and Fred Ebb, opened on Broadway in 1966 and garnered eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score. It was further popularized by the 1972 film adaptation, (Which won 8 Academy Awards) directed by Bob Fosse and starring Joel Grey as the Emcee and Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles. The story examines the microcosm of a seedy Berlin nightclub (the “Kit Kat Club”) in the early 1930s as it is affected by Weimar Germany’s descent into Nazism.
The production’s overall design was simple and effective, allowing the performances by the student actors to stand at the forefront of the show. The anchoring set, designed by Angelo Merenda, consisted of a central white catwalk adorned with shimmery pink curtains and flanked at its base by bistro tables on the floor of the theatre space, with neutrally colored crates and minimal set dressings used to create alternate locations on the proscenium stage.
The costume design by Collin Ranney featured Kit Kat Club members in leather, lace, and corsets galore in a color pallet of blacks, reds, whites, and neutral tones, with principle male characters in more conservative earth toned suits. These contrasted nicely with Sally’s many colorful, sheer, and flowing garments. The clean and well-executed lighting was designed by Marianne Meadows, the sound board was operated by Rebeca Lindenfeld, and the tastefully seductive choreography was by Kelly Williams Carlson.
As audience members and an ensemble of Kit Kat Club patrons made their way to their respective seats, they were serenaded with the smooth jazz vocals of Kit Kat Girls Texas (Annie Moglinicki) and Lulu (Amina Dunn). This lovely touch, later reprised at intermission with performers Fritzie (MerryRose Howley) and Bobby (Daniel Waldman), gave a tantalizing taste of the nightclub experience that followed.
Yana Madrid gave a unique performance as a non-traditional, female Emcee. Her cool confidence and poise created an intriguing sense of mystery and enigma, deepened by her gorgeous, siren-like voice in songs such as the foreboding and melancholy “I Don’t Care Much.”
Kristen Popham displayed acting chops far beyond her years in her artfully nuanced performance as Sally Bowles. Her disarmingly endearing sense of whimsy and wild romanticism would give way to instability and raw emotion, making her character arc wholly enthralling to behold.
As her lover, American novelist Cliff Bradshaw, Noah Mutterperl delivered charm and counterbalancing brooding, which made for exciting dramatic scenes.
Rachel Lawhead and Chad Vann created a tender and sweet romance as inn keeper Fräulein Schneider and fruit seller Herr Schultz, while providing contrasting, earnest heartbreak in the second act that massively aided in the show’s dark tone shift.
Anna Phillips-Brown was a formidable femme fatale as the prostitute Fräulein Kost. Her belted duet with Nazi sympathizer Ernst Ludwig (a charismatic yet sinister Diego Ortiz), the reprise of nationalist anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” was as stunning as it was chilling. The storytelling was further elevated by the engaged and committed ensemble, whose tangible sense of community made the subtle yet shocking finale frightening to the core, bringing the audience in to one of the darkest periods of human history in a gripping way.
It is apparent that the Theatre Lab’s Musical Theatre Institute for Teens did a great service to its students by providing them with complex, mature material, and the skills needed to create powerful performances. And with their exceptional production of Pacific Overtures last month, it’s been a great summer at Theatre Lab.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
Cabaret has three more performance: tonight, August 7th, and tomorrow, August 8th, at 7:30 pm. There is also a matinee tomorrow, Saturday, August 8th, at 2:00 pm, at The Theatre Lab – 733 8th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.