BWW Reviews: CABARET at Broad Brook Opera House Manages to be Derivative and Devastating
Theatre: Opera House Players
Location: Broad Brook Opera House, 107 Main Street, Broad Brook, CT
Production: Book by Joe Masteroff, Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb; Direction and Set Design by Becky Beth Benedict; Lighting Design by Diane St. Amand; Costume Design by Moonyean Field; Choreography by Amy Bouchard. Through February 23; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets $17-$21, visit www.operahouseplayers.org or call (860) 292-6068
To be honest, I wasn't really looking forward to reviewing the Broad Brook Opera House Players production of Kander and Ebb's classic musical, Cabaret. When I started reviewing two or so years back, BBOHP was doing Chicago. I saw the New York production and what I saw in Broad Brook was mainly a photocopy of the Broadway revival. The next year, it was Hairspray. Pretty much the same experience. Both productions were not without their merits, but they did not say anything fresh or personal about the material and did not credit the originating direction, choreography or designers.
When asked to review the Opera House Players' current production of Cabaret, I replied that I wasn't interested in so doing if what I was going to see was a remount or rip-off of the 1998 Broadway revival. I had been to the Playhouse on Park production last summer and found it a rather slavish reenactment of the much-lauded Donmar Warehouse version, which is already being imminently revived in New York with Alan Cumming. The Broad Brook director, Becky Beth Benedict, replied that although, yes, there were going to be influences from that production, that there would be some different twists on the material. I agreed to review the show (and even made it my Valentine's night out).
I can happily report that, yes, the production does possess something of its own identity. While recognizably riffing on the aesthetics of the 1998 Broadway revival (an androgynous, semi-clothed emcee), the show does evidence some of its own choices (the emcee's bowtie has moved from his chest to his crotch). In areas large and small, Benedict tricks out visuals and bits from the New York production, but adds dashes of her own vision. This is definitely a step in the right direction, although it would be nice to see something more distinctively different (even mimicking the Joel Grey production).
The first act of the show, which features more choreography and percussive music, is surprisingly draggy when it comes to the musical moments. "Wilkommen" feels staid instead of ribald. "Don't Tell Mama" comes off as lethargic. The chorus hits its marks, but we don't feel the abandon of Weimar Republic sexuality. What we find is more of a forced sexiness that doesn't really register as titillating as much as deflating. The dramatic/non-musical scenes, conversely, feel more urgent and well-played. The overall effect of the first act, culminating in the Nazi anthem "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," is underwhelming.
You can imagine my surprise when the second act plays as much more devastating, dramatic and vital. When not having to worry about all of the choreography, Benedict and her cast tread into much darker territory and grab the play by its throat. Where I was not buying Tomm Knightlee's aggressively effeminate Emcee in the first act, his "If You Could See Her" is the first time I've seen that number actually shock as intended. Knightlee's haunting "I Don't Care Much," played as a disconsolate woman dressing for one final, heartbreaking night on the town, simply floored me. If he dials down the Act 1 mincing, his performance could be one to remember.
Janine Flood's stand-and-deliver moment, "What Would You Do?," similarly dazzles and shows off her expressive and pained vocal fireworks. Flood evidences little chemistry with her fiancé, portrayed by Michael Budnick, but she sings the pants off the part. Brianna Stronk-Wandzy steps up to the plate to knock the title song of the production out of the park. Her Sally Bowles reads as a little less flaky as usually presented and Cliff, portrayed by Michael King, perhaps evidences a little too much backbone, but at a minimum, they feel like original portrayals.
In secondary roles, Amy Meek shines as that naughty Nazi hooker, Fraulein Kost, as does Hal Chernoff as Ernst Ludwig. Anne Collin beautifully and poignantly renders the German portion of "Married." Madeline Lukomski does a fantastic, comic job in her spotlight dance moment in "If You Could See Her."
The small pit orchestra, led by Victor Perpetua, is fine, but performs without the snap that the orchestrations require in the first act. Again, the vastly superior second act finds the "beautiful" orchestra more in-step with the cast. Bravo to Director Benedict and OHP for taking some steps toward establishing a stronger artistic stamp. They are not all the way out of the nest, but it's worthwhile when you can see them soar.
Photo of Brianna Stronk-Wandzy by Krista Stepansky.