Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Kander and Ebb’s classic Cabaret is an intimate experience, with wonderful singing and choreography. Based on Christopher Isherwood’s stories, this version of the 1966 musical is directed by Sally Boyett, with musical direction by Marc Irwin. The show, with its dark overtones and tragic ending, seems rather appropriate for these tumultuous times.
Kenneth Derby gives the Emcee a raunchy physicality, twisting about the stage in “Willkommen” and “Two Ladies,” bumping and grinding against the Kit Kat Klub’s female dancers (Alexis Krey, Morganne Chu, Christine Asero, and Molly McCloskey) and the male dancers (Ian Charles, Alexander Siegal). He smiles while singing the dirty puns. And yet there is a sinister edge to him as well. In “Money,” he throws the dancers around, before throwing cash at them. He does the Nazi salute in the center of “Kickline,” using his finger for a Hitler mustache while gleefully telling the audience “It’s only me.” He sings “If You Could See Her” with a charm that seems loving, until the last line, which is stage whispered with a biting edge. In the final scene, he reveals his last costume, haltingly singing “Willkommen” while rotating around in the stage’s center. It is a powerfully shocking end.
Caroline Gorland brings a complexity to Sally Bowles. She dazzles with pleasure and sensuality in “Don’t Tell Mama” and gives “Mein Herr” a furious power that’s still fun and charming. In her dressing room, though, arguing with her boyfriend Max (played with clenched fists by Darren Marquardt), there’s a desperation to her. Convincing Cliff (Wood Van Meter) to let her move in with him has the feel of a woman holding on for dear life, while giving an air of lightness. She gives “Maybe This Time” a vulnerability and hope that is lovely to hear. She begins “Cabaret” softly, almost hesitantly, then sings it with power and joy. She ends the song looking puzzled, rushing offstage. Her final scene with Van Meter is incredibly emotional, as she is both cruel and tender. Concerned only about becoming a star, she doesn’t see the looming threat in front of her.
Wood Van Meter plays Cliff Bradshaw with passion. He and Gorland have wonderful chemistry, as he fails to convince her that living together is a bad idea. Act II shows him full of anger, striking Nazis and packing his bags to escape Berlin. He has tears in his eyes in his last scene with Gorland, desperately trying to get her to leave with him. Her ignorance about the Nazis makes him furious.
Ian Charles gives Ernst Ludwig complexity as well. At the start, he is charming and friendly, offering Cliff work. As soon as he is revealed as a Nazi, he becomes stiff and violent. He sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” with a scowl on his face. As the dancer Bobby he is all light, passionately kissing Cliff.
Annie Gill plays Fraulein Schneider with pragmatic humor. She gives a wistfulness to “So What?” remembering how far she’s fallen. In “What Would You Do?” she firmly attacks Cliff’s idealism, showing her limited choices. Gill has excellent chemistry with Darren Marquardt as Herr Schultz; they dance together beautifully. She sings “It Couldn’t Please Me More” with absolute joy, and he sings “Married” full of love.
Scenic Designer Salydon Boyken has created a sparse set that helps emphasize the performers. On the far left is a wooden door, leading to a small balcony up a spiral staircase. A fine haze covers the stage. Chairs are used for seats on a train, and a trunk rolls out for Cliff’s flat. A small table comes out for Sally’s dressing room. The backdrop is a white screen on which Projections Designer Joshua McKerrow throws up images, such as the Kit Kat Klub sign, fleur-de-lis wallpaper, and bank notes in “Money.”
Lighting Designer Adam Mendelson gives the stage a club-like atmosphere. At the very start, a spotlight shines on the Emcee’s arm as it peeks out from behind the stage, later covering all of him. Spotlights shine on the singers from the balcony, and on the individuals as they speak at the end. Otherwise, the stage seems dark.
Musical Director Marc Irwin conducts the orchestra beautifully from behind the backdrop. The music comes through clearly, blending well with the actors’ singing. During “Kickline” the music, combined with the dancing, had the audience clapping along.
Sally Boyett does a wonderful job as Costume Designer as well as Director, making period-appropriate outfits for each character. The Emcee wears a white, backless vest, along with a white jacket and black boots, sometimes wearing a black leather trench coat. The female dancers begin the show in period lingerie with black stockings, later changing to fishnet stockings. The male dancers wear black backless vests and black pants. Cliff wears khaki pants and a tan vest, jacket, and coat, with a tan fedora. Sally has several outfits, including a short black dress and stockings, and a fur coat over a green dress. Ernst and Schultz both wear dark blue suits.
The actors work incredibly well together, navigating the stage and each other easily. Their dancing is beautiful to watch, with intricate choreography, including kicks and twirls. They hit all the emotional points at the right time, especially the powerful scenes toward the end. They easily make the transition from the fun of Act I to the darkness of Act II. Thanks to Dialect Coach Nancy Krebs, their accents, both British and German, sound authentic while still being clear. Everything comes together for a night of entertainment, with plenty to think about afterward. They close after this coming weekend, so be sure to catch it!
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.