In Act One of Cabaret, Cliff Bradshaw tells Sally Bowles that he loves Berlin because it feels like a city full of children behaving badly, getting wilder and wilder because they know that at any moment their parents will be home and the party will be over.
The year is 1931 and the ‘children’ are the residents of Berlin who have been through a grueling World War, hyperinflation and crippling austerity measures. They just want to blow off a little steam and that they do nightly at the raunchy and raucous Kit Kat Klub. But the specter of Nazism underlies the frenetic escapism like a cold whisper. World War II, the parents coming to stomp out the kids’ good time, is creeping ever closer.
Cabaret, the Tony Award-winning musical by the dizzying creative team of John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and Joe Masteroff (book) took Broadway by storm when it premiered in 1966. That production, directed by Harold Prince and starring Joel Grey as the Emcee, was ahead of its time in confronting issues of exclusion and persecution. Subsequent renditions of Cabaret have been even bolder in spotlighting the undercurrents of sexuality and prejudice that were obliquely addressed in the original production and Kensington Arts Theatre (KAT) continues in that vein.
Director Craig Pettinati boldly taps into both the sexuality and politics at the heart of Cabaret. Pettinati’s direction makes strong choices that highlight both the comic aspects of the show and the harshness of 1931 Germany resulting in a production that is fresh, entertaining and thought provoking.
The cast is led by an energized Jonathan M. Rizzardi as the Emcee. Rizzardi opens the show with the signature tune “Wilkomen” proving that he has the vocal chops, inspired dance moves and infectious energy to hold his own in the iconic role. His performance of “Two Ladies” (with Solomon Parker III (Herman) and Ivan Carlo (Bobby) in delicious drag) and “If You Could See Her” (with an uncredited dancing Gorilla) highlight the bawdiness of the show and the Emcee’s role as cultural commentator. And his final touching number “I Don’t Care Much” shows off his wide vocal range.
Sarah Jane Bookter’s Sally Bowles strikes the right chord of naïve innocence and sexuality. She was great in “Mein Herr” and her songs “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret” were endearing and heartfelt performances that channeled the character’s vulnerability and pain.
Rizzardi and Bookter perform many songs with the wonderful Kit Kat girls (Geocel Batista, Carlotta Capuano, Alexandra Clapp, Jessica Bay Graber, Kat O’Connor, and Miranda Austin Tharp) that allow the choreography of Cassandra Williams to shine.
Matt Trollinger brings to mind a young Ernest Hemingway in his portrayal of the expat American writer traveling through Europe between the World Wars. He beautifully conveys the increasing disillusionment of an outsider thrust into political and sexual turbulence. His singing on “Perfectly Marvelous” and the ‘Finale’ number prove he has the vocal chops for the role.
But my favorite characters, the couple who elicited an audible “awwww…” from the audience after their first kiss in “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” are Liz Weber as Fraulein Schneider and Chuck Dluhy as Herr Schultz. Weber and Dluhy bring to life the romance of an older couple as a balancing tonic to the skin-baring sexuality of Cabaret’s other relationships. Of course, this is Germany and Herr Schultz is Jewish, so, there are heartbreaking complications.
Jessica Bay Graber gives an entertaining performances as Kost, Frauline Schneider’s testy tenant who loves to entertain sailors and her vocals shine as the Chanteuse in the song “Married.” Graber and Garret Zink, the German who befriends Cliff Bradshaw when he arrives in Berlin, bring an unsettling gravitas to the Act One closer “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (reprise).”
Dan Patrick Leano’s lighting design contributed immensely to the sense of increasing foreboding that built throughout the show, especially the backlighting technique used on “Mein Herr” and in the “Finale.”
The costume team of Erica Clare, Hannah Herold and Eric Scerbo must have worked overtime to dress the cast, given the myriad of costume changes for the Emcee alone. To me, the standout costuming choice was the tulle skirts worn by the Kit Kat Girls during “Money.” Leano’s creepy up-lighting on the skirts, combined with Williams evocative choreography, gave the whole dance a feel of impending doom as if to say dance now girls, because who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Cabaret was performed by a beautiful sounding orchestra conducted by Music Director Stuart Y. Weich. The orchestrations stood out at the opening of Act Two and contributed to the emotional intensity of the title song ‘Cabaret.’
John Decker’s set design featured an elevated area to the rear of the stage where the Emcee provided many moments of emotional commentary on the unfolding drama.
Kensington Arts Theatre has produced a Cabaret that is the complete package. From the bistro tables with flickering candles and tablecloths that greet you as you enter the space to the emotionally poignant finale, the KAT team has touched on every detail to assure you will thoroughly enjoy your time at the Kit Kat Klub. It’s a Cabaret you won’t soon forget!
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Cabaret plays through November 19, 2016, at Kensington Arts Theatre (KAT) performing at Kensington Town Hall – 3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 1: Meet Sarah Jane Bookter.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 2: Meet Chuck Dluhy.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 3: Meet Matt Trollinger.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 4: Meet Jonathan M. Rizzardi.
Come to KAT’s ‘Cabaret’: Part 5: Meet Liz Weber.
All interviews are by Joel Markowitz.