BWW Review: Scintillating CABARET at Shea's Buffalo Theatre
WILKOMMEN, WELCOME TO A STUNNING CABARET
A scinitillating revival of Kander and Ebb's CABARET is playing on the Shea's stage and this re-imagined classic feels both fresh and disturbing in appropriate ways.
This production's original director, Sam Mendes, rethought the well known 1966 musical for the TONY AWARD winnning revival at the Roundabout Theatre company in 1998, and a revival of that production recently placed Broadway again in 2014. Mendes' brilliant touch makes the famed Kit Kat Klub even seedier, underscoring more of the evolving Nazi movement and blending the book scenes with the cabaret acts with ease. This polished touring production is directed by BT McNicholl and is best described as a gem in the rough, for all it's bawdiness and grimy realness.
Based on Christopher Ishwerwoods stories and John Van Druten's play, "I Am A Camera," CABARET is set in a night club in pre Nazi Germany. Here the sordid lives of the players are invaded not only by the Nazis but by a wide eyed American author, Cliff, looking for inspiration for a novel. Once settled in a boarding house, he becomes entangled with the cabaret singer Sally Bowles, his landlord Fraulein Schultz, and a new friend, Ernst, who has questionable political connections.
Emcee Jon Peterson gives a gut- wretchingly beautiful performance leading the night's events, morphing from male to female with nary a second glance. Peterson plays this androgenous character, that was so effectively originated by Joel Grey, with nod to Mr. Grey and also the more recent emcee Alan Cumming. He firmly places his own stamp on the role, singing better than both of his talented predecessors. The emcee pops up in the most unusual of other roles, even yelling "it's me" every now and then, to the delight of the audience.
Benjamin Eakeley as Cliff embodied the wide eyed American who is unsure of his sexuality and in whom the backroom bars of Berlin are a haven. Mary Gordon Murray shines as Fraulein Schultz, the wary hausfrau, who has seen it all in her lifetime. Her strong voice and no nonsense attitude was riveting, delivering "What Would You Do" with resilient strength, making her exiting line, "I regret everything," heartbreaking. Scott Robertson was touching as Herr Schultz, the German Jewish grocer, and brought some needed levity to his "It Couldn't Please Me More," aka the pineapple song. Alison Ewing as Fraulein Kost was perfect as the resident whore, accompanying herself on the accordion singing "Tomorrow Belongs To Me," Kander and Ebb's eerie paean to what is to soon happen with the Nazi take over.
The pivotal role of Sally, played by Leigh Ann Larkin, requires an inherent quirkiness as well as naivete that makes her endearing to everyone, but vulnerable to the core. Ms. Larkin certainly has the voice to sell a song, but not until her breakdown in the title song did you believe that she could have been a member of the Kit Kat Klub Girls. This group of rag tag ladies of the evening appeared strung out, bumping and grinding like automatons that have become numb to their dismal lives. Unfortunately, Ms Larkin is made up more as a cupie doll, much too polished with a no-hair-out-of-place bob. All this plus her slight figure made her hard to believe as a girl who likes to paint her fingernails green and snort cocaine in her dressing room.
Not enough can be said of the multi-talented ensemble, who not only play their theatrical roles, but also serve as the orchestra, suspended on a second level high above the stage. They are given central focus in the Entr'Acte to Act II. Choreographer Cynthia Onrubia has replicated Rob Marshall's original dances, and spine tingles are elicited as the kickline of girls morphs into a regiment of Nazi soldiers in the blink of an eye.
The magnificent lighting design by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari becomes an integral part of the set and it's flashing marquee and proscenium lights often build to a frenzy of their own. At the dramatic conclusion of Mendes' production the audience is left breathless seeing Mr. Peterson literally crumble, reminding us that not everything in Germany was as "beautiful" as the imaginary life inside the Kit Kat Klub.
CABARET plays through April 30,2017 at Shea's Buffalo Theatre. Contact sheas.org for more info.