BWW Review: Touring Production of CABARET Illuminates the Ohio Theatre
From a stage framed by rows of light bulbs, CABARET gives Columbus audiences an unforgettable "Willkommen" with a show that highlights the talents of a multi-skilled cast.
Roundabout Theatre Company's touring production is set to be performed at the Ohio Theatre through April 2.
CABARET celebrated its Broadway debut in 1966, and received eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Since then, Roundabout Theatre Company has performed its award-winning version of the show in two separate runs on Broadway and on the current national tour that began in January 2016.
Based on John Van Druten's 1951 play, I Am a Camera, which was, in turn, adapted from stories written by Christopher Isherwood, CABARET takes place in Berlin, Germany, during the years 1929 and 1930. At first, the tumultuous political situation in Europe at the time is hardly mentioned at all, forgotten amid the brazen raunchiness and seductive sensuality of the Kit Kat Klub's nightly performances. Yet, as the plot progresses, this facade crumbles as the harsh realities of life become too overtly powerful to ignore.
While entering the theater to find their seats, audience members are given a voyeuristic view of the actors' and musicians' pre-show routines. Scantily clad Kit Kat girls slide into the splits while instrumentalists suavely strut around the stage and strike suggestive poses for the amusement of the crowd.
The playful atmosphere is kicked up quite a few notches with the opening number, featuring performers from the Kit Kat Klub and its emcee (Jon Peterson), whose wolfish smile and insatiable desire for sex suggests that there's a carnivorous edge to his charisma. One of the most fascinating aspects of the show is how Peterson's emcee is a constant presence at the periphery of scenes. Capitalizing on his androgynous appearance and using the powers of disguise, he lurks in the background and slinks through The Shadows with the intent to shock and surprise.
As British singer Sally Bowles, the Kit Kat Klub's featured performer, Leigh Ann Larkin embraces her character's eccentricities, which are simultaneously endearing and enigmatic. Sally might be frivolously uninterested in the issues facing her adopted city, but Larkin deeply delves into evocative emotions when she showcases her sultry, smooth voice in iconic numbers like "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret."
Larkin's free spirit is tempered by the more traditional views of her roommate and lover, American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley). Clifford's status as a foreigner places him in a role that is similar to that of an audience member, as he finds that he is limited in his ability to do more than watch while events beyond his control unfold. Eakeley's charming wit makes his character more appealing to the viewers, who share Clifford's sense of growing disenchantment with a city that once enthralled him.
A large part of CABARET's potency comes from how it combines moments of soft intimacy with bombastic bursts of fiery ferocity. The romance that develops between boardinghouse owner Fräulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray) and her fiance, Herr Schultz (Scott Robertson), is a fruit-filled flirtation that beautifully and tragically depicts a relationship that bears the brunt of Germany's changing society. The stark contrast between Act One's "It Couldn't Please Me More" -- hands down the most romantic song written about a pineapple that you can expect to hear on stage -- and Murray's touching interpretation of "What Would You Do?" merely an hour later in Act Two is enough to make your head spin and your heart ache.
The events discussed in CABARET occurred several decades ago, but the message at its core is hauntingly relevant today. Like the patrons of the Kit Kat Klub, the audience is initially dazzled by the stage's inviting glow and mesmerized by the musical talents of the cast members, who also play in the accompanying Kit Kat Band.
However, as these elements of glitz and novelty fall away, viewers barely have time to blink before being thrust into the light of reality. This abrupt awakening makes the final scene uncomfortable to watch, but it ultimately ensures that the chilling message beneath CABARET's gilded glamor will not be forgotten anytime soon.
CABARET will be performed at the Ohio Theatre through April 2.
Tickets are available for purchase at the CAPA Ticket Center, located at 39 E. State St., as well as at all Ticketmaster outlets and online. Purchases via phone can be arranged by calling (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000.
The Ohio Theatre is located at 39 E. State St.