Review: ‘Cabaret’ at Silhouette Stages

Bless playwrights John Van Deuten/ Joe Masteroff, composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb who give us a specific piece of theatre, which is chilling in its applicability to the social climate of the US, and indeed, the world, today.

Tommy Malek as The Emcee with the Kit Kat Boys and Girls (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Silhouette Stages puts up Cabaret, Book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and the writings of Christopher Isherwood in his book The Berlin Stories/ Goodbye To Berlin. I may not be the only reviewer in the United States who had never seen Cabaret, but I certainly feel as if I might be. Most people around me seem to know the story, either from having seen the show previously or from the 1972 Bob Fosse film starring Liza Minnelli.

There are chairs on the floor of the Slayton House theater for immediacy and proximity to the stage, though I prefer a spot among the steeply raked seats. The production opens explosively and features a brilliantly body-positive cast. The ghost light that theaters in the United States have been featuring since 2017 as a symbol of hope and solidarity sits onstage during the opening number, though the fabulous performance of Tommy Malek as the Emcee draws your attention away from it. What an opening number, and isn’t Tommy magnificent!

The aesthetic of the production relies heavily on that of the movie, which, arguably, is both a good and a bad idea. It’s impossible to capture the quirky Fosse camera angles in a stage production, and the choreography, so precise and pristine, is very likely done in more than one take… simply put, it’s an unrealistic aspiration. Director Stephen Foreman does, however, convey the smokey, gritty feel of the movie, and choreographer Amie Bell includes some signature Fosse moves.

Originally a ‘concept piece,’ Cabaret has some oddities. The romances feel a little slapped together, and the songs attached to them have lyrics that occasionally are annoyingly repetitive rather than simply uninspired. Other numbers seem to neither move the plot nor reveal character. “If You Could See Her” particularly baffles me, though a Bob Fosse/Gwen Verdon story attached to it makes for fascinating television drama.

Costume Designers Clare Kneebone and Tommy Malek serve up some splendid period costuming, practically reeking of sex and desperation. Wigs and makeup are equally well done, though the Emcee’s makeup, so much more garish than the rest of the cast, gives the Emcee a sinister overtone that suggests some sort of metaphor. Interestingly, the Emcee’s splendid outfits degrade during the course of the show, until, by the final moments, he’s practically shabby.

Megan Mostow as Sally Bowles with the Kit Kat Boys and Girls (Photo by Stasia Steuart Photography)

Most of the production values are high, including the sassy, snappy orchestra under the direction of Michael Tan, the lighting and smog/fog effects, the swift scene changes, versatile set and the dialects as coached by Kelly Rardon- it’s a pity that the head-mics aren’t functioning well.

Playing narrative lead Clifford Bradshaw, Seth Fallon is likable and endearing, with a rich powerful voice that seems at odds with his tentative manner. Megan Mostow plays Sally Bowles with flippant brittleness and excellent vocals. In the roles of Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, Pamela Northrup and Christopher Kabara are sweet and charming and the audience roots for their relationship enthusiastically. “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” their duet about fruit, is sweet without being saccharine, and both performers have fascinating, expressive faces. As Fräulein “Fritzie” Kost, Linda Roby adopts smug pettiness and self-interest which is, apparently, timeless.

I include from the website Silhouette Stages PARENTAL ADVISORY: This production contains depictions of Nazis, sexual situations, and drug use, in an effort to accurately represent Weimar, Germany in the 1930s.

This Cabaret is a cautionary tale, or perhaps a lament, considering the date on this article:

“Throughout the history of the world, people in power have always sexualized their enemies, portraying the minority as sexually dangerous and destructive, convincing the masses that the “rampant” sexuality must be contained, and the Nazis had learned well from history. The truth is neither homosexuals nor women were responsible for Germany’s war debts or the deadlock in the parliament, but the truth is often less important than emotion and fear. What’s truly disturbing is to realize that right-wing politicians in America use the same tactics today, blaming homosexuals (the only American minority it’s still acceptable to demonize) and sexual freedom in general for all America’s troubles. The only difference is that there’s no Adolf Hitler waiting to seize power.

At least not right now.”
– from Inside CABARET Background and Analysis, by Scott Miller, Copyright 1999.

Silhouette’s production of Cabaret delivers an evening of entertainment and drama for which I am woefully unprepared. The final moments are nothing short of chilling, and the silence in the audience is a testament to the power of the piece.

Run Time: Two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission

Silhouette Stages’ Cabaret plays at the Slayton House Theater in Wilde Lake Village Center through June 2, 2019, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are available online.