BWW Reviews: CABARET Sizzles at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse
“Let’s get naughty,” was the last phrase thrown to the audience before the lights went down—it summed up the show nicely.
Before the show even began, the seedy, still glitzy nightclub set oozed raunchiness. The sensuously skeletal, transparent Kit Kat Club seemed to throw all taboos aside before the ladies even took the stage.
CABARET, the famed (and multiple Tony Award winning) musical, by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff, is the fourth show of the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse 2012 season. Although Merry-Go-Round chose not to use the updated book which includes “Maybe this Time,” the show stills sizzles with the original score—almost making you forget about the later additions.
Director and choreographer, Brett Smock, had the delightful challenge of stringing together a performance that would, ultimately, bring despair for everyone (including the audience)—as noted during the end of act one when the storm is starting to brew.
Set in 1930 Berlin, during a time of political turmoil and an unfolding burlesque cavalcade of dancers, Smock uses his set to address the dysfunction. Using a scrim as a screen, the countryside from the train is visible, the Nazi emergence is tangible and monkey love is obvious. Even with a dazzling way to put themes and images into perspective, CABARET begs to be sleazily glamorous. The ill-fate of all involved needs to be squeezed from every Fosse-esque dance and echoed as each note should be more desperate than the last. And, it all starts with “Willkommen.”
Notably the standout character of the show, the Emcee, played by Josh Walden, delivered a purely pristine and erotic performance. From opening to “Two Ladies,” Walden’s Master of Ceremonies sets the pace for show. Submitting subtle context throughout the night, the Emcee is the narrator and host of the entire evening. Walden delivers a performance of a seedy cabaret performer who can still manage to earn the affection of the audience. Seeming like an omnipresent character, the Emcee lives vicariously with the rest of the characters, and as is as much affected as anyone else by the unfolding events.
Intertwined throughout the cabaret performances is the tragic-love story of two couples. The not-so-ingénue Sally Bowles (Paige Faure) and American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Mick Bleyer) as well as the intimidating Fraulein Schneider (Sandra Karas) and the lovable fruit store owner Herr Schultz (Joel Briel).
For Cliff, the protagonist throughout the piece, his journey throughout the show is a like a coming-of-age story: one that brings an incredibly naïve and virginal boy to an experienced man. Cliff comes to Europe for a change of scenery, to write. He finds his muse, manhood and possible new story in Sally. Bleyer showed a naïve, intelligent and conservative man. A gentleman who would shy away from a come on rather than grab at it, he quickly grows into a sexual being. Yet, as Cliff’s frustrations grow throughout the performance, Bleyer seemed left behind. It was not until the end of the show, that Bleyer caught up with Cliff and presented him in a heartbroken, desolate manner.
Still, as the passion soared between Sally and Cliff, the attraction was palpable. The ever-flamboyant and bigger than life Sally is exactly what Cliff needs. Seeing beyond the cabaret performer, Cliff truly sees the love of his life in his exact opposite.
Faure’s Sally was just as she should be: exotic and engulfing. Untamable and her personality whips at you as you watch her command the stage alongside the strong ensemble in “Don’t Tell Mama.” Her exhaustive self-destruction as Faure brings on the 10 o’clock number (“Cabaret”) was her capstone. Realizing she is lost in her own world of CABARET, she will never escape her own deterioration.
Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz is a cute couple who finds love (“Married”) at the wrong time, at least for Fraulein Schneider. As the show comes to a boil and Nazi alliance proudly shown by Ernst Ludwig, played by the charming and unknowing foil Ryan Speakman, Fraulein Schneider cannot get past the hard life she would have with a Jewish husband.
Perhaps one of the reasons CABARET is so powerful, is that even in a show as sex-driven as this, each character has something to stand for—whether good or bad. Finally, in an ironic blow, it is those virtues that destroy each of them.
This destruction was evident in the ending of the show as the ensemble looked like Jewish prisoners in a concentration camp, bewildered, the caked-on sexy makeup sadly forgotten.
CABARET at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse offers an impressive experience. Dazzling choreography and impeccable direction teamed up with a stellar cast, leaves you with little hope for these people, as it needs to be.
Cliff left the audience with this: “There was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany. It was the end of the world.” And perhaps, for them, it was.
CABARET is presented at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse now through Sept. 8. For tickets visit http://merry-go-round.com/tickets/buy-now, or call 315-255-1785.
Photo Credit: Linda Lenzi
Photo Credit: Linda Lenzi