BWW Reviews: CABARET at the Shaw Festival
Deborah Hay as Sally Bowles is a brilliant light shining in this otherwise very dark production of Cabaret, on stage this season at the Shaw Festival. Hayes has captured Sally completely, and in doing so, captivated the audience. Her rendition of "Maybe This Time" is so convincing that you believe she really wants the relationship to work. But then, as soon as Cliff starts packing for Pennsylvania, you can see the interest drain away from Hay's Sally.
Director Peter Hinton has emphasized the darkness of pre-Nazi Germany. It must have been a strange place as the hedonistic lifestyle swings right to the Nazi party. The story opens with Cliff Bradshaw's arrival in Berlin. An American, he wants to observe life in Germany and write about it. Sally Bowles, a singer at the Kit Kat Klub, moves in with him when her affair with the club owner and her gig both end. The two are so different - he is just an onlooker, she is an extroverted exhibitionist who just wants to be seen.
Gray Powell is a convincing Cliff Bradshaw, and it's interesting to watch him realize that he can no longer be passive but must act to avoid the coming Nazi atrocities. Unfortunately, Powell's singing abilities are not of the same calibre as Hay's.
Juan Chioran's Emcee is suitably creepy. Unlike some Emcees I've seen the past, who are in the spotlight and controlling the activity of the Kit Kat Klub, Chioran skulks around the darkness, then startling the audience when he comes to the front of the stage.
The Klub's girls and boys add the eerie darkness of this cabaret - their faces are blank, eyes staring at nothing, zombie-like. There is no real choreography, each character moving in his or own strange way.
The set, a monstrous iron spiral staircase on a revolving stage prevents any dancing. It adds coldness and even seems dark although there are lights on it. It casts cage-like shadows.
In the subplot, where Fraulein Schneider and her tenant Herr Schultz plan to marry, Corrine Koslo and Benedict Campbell add a tiny bit of warmth to the story. However, when Fraulein Schneider tells Herr Schultz she can't marry him because he's a Jew, the show becomes uncomfortable and disturbing again.
Only the opening provoked any laughter. Before the show, a series of instructions were delivered in German. Since most of the audience doesn't understand German, thankfully, there were diagrams showing no cell phones, (texting is verboten - meaning forbidden), no cameras, and no candy.
If you like a challenging production, one with symbols designed to provoke and make your squirm, you will enjoy this dark and challenging production of Cabaret.
As Ms. Hay defiantly sings the title song the words resonate: "From cradle to tomb,
Isn't that long a stay". In the murky world of Berlin in 1930, we know that Sally Bowles time, and the happiness she professes to have, will be cut short.
Cabaret continues in repertoire at The Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake until October 26. For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-7429.