BWW Review: CABARET A Dark Glistening Gem
Based on Christopher Isherwood's novella Goodbye to Berlin (1939) and the subsequent 1951 play by John Van Druten entitled I Am a Camera, CABARET is a musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb with a book by Joe Masteroff that opened on Broadway in 1966. The production was a hit that was subsequently made into the 1972 film by Bob Fosse. In 1993, Sam Mendes re-imagined the material for a new production in London's West End. Mendes' conception was very different from any previous revival. This production was the basis for Roundabout Theatre Company's 1998 and subsequent 2014 revivals, the latter of which is the version currently on tour and being presented at Bass Concert Hall by Lexus Broadway In Austin.
The most noticeable changes were in the character of the Emcee going from asexual to highly sexualized and the complete re-orchestrating of the score with all the instruments now being played by the Kit Kat Klub performers. Some of the iconic numbers were rethought and lesser known numbers were replaced by songs from the film, notably "Money", "Maybe This Time" and "Mein Herr". A new number for the Emcee called "I Don't Care Much" was also added to Act Two.
CABARET takes place in 1931 Berlin during the start of the Nazi rise to power. Set against the background of the seedy Kit Kat Klub it revolves around English cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Andrea Goss) and her relationship with a young American writer named Cliff Bradshaw (Lee Aaron Rosen). Sub-plots involve the romance between boarding house operator Fräulein Schneider (Shannon Cochran) and her Jewish fruit vendor suitor Herr Schultz (Mark Nelson). The numbers performed in the club, overseen by the Emcee (Randy Harrison) are a commentary on both the actions of the characters and the frightening political developments in Germany.
In Mendes re-telling he has stripped away all unnecessary elements to reveal the hard and dark black heart of this material and the effect is absolutely breathtaking. Fifty years from its Broadway debut, CABARET still has much to say about our current political climate and the inherent dangers in both silence and waiting until the next election. It is a cautionary tale that still has the power to send chills up your spine. I am reminded of the quote by Edmund Burke: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
BT McNicholl's direction is taut and fluid with absolutely no pause in the action. The Emcee hovers over the proceedings ominously foreshadowing the tragic events about to be unleashed on Germany and the World. Cynthia Onrubia has beautifully recreated Rob Marshall's striking choreography. Robert Brill's stark multipurpose multilevel set is a glorious backdrop that showcases the story while Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari's lighting stunningly becomes a character in and of itself. The costuming by William Ivey Long is subtle making a subliminal statement as the colors fade as the piece progresses.
This touring cast is filled with exceptional performances. Randy Harrison as the Emcee possesses a great singing voice and a charisma that makes him a person that, when on stage, must be watched. At the top of Act Two, his interplay with the audience and waving to the balcony saying "Hello poor people" had the audience eating out of his hand. Andrea Goss makes a terrific Sally Bowles with her powerhouse voice and a performance that really brings out the pathos of the chanteuse.
Alison Ewing is a standout as Fraulein Kost, with razor sharp comedic timing and a singing voice that will raise the hair on the back of your neck. Shannon Cochran, as Fraulein Schneider, is perfection and her numbers "So What" and "What Would You Do?" artfully capture the changes in the character. Mark Nelson delivers a touching performance as Herr Schultz. To be honest, there isn't a weak performance anywhere in this company.
This production is CABARET like you've never seen it before with a striking ending I don't want to spoil for you. Re-imagined productions like this make for exciting theatre... and exciting theatre is what makes audiences choose theatre over film. I give CABARET my highest possible recommendation. Don't miss this!
Running Time: Two Hours and 42 Minutes with one intermission. Please be aware of the new Broadway in Austin policy which does not permit you to leave the building at intermission.
CABARET, produced by The Roundabout Theatre and presented by Lexus Broadway In Austin, at Bass Concert Hall in the Texas Performing Arts Center (2350 Robert Dedman Dr, Austin, TX 78712). Performances run through April 3, 2016.
Ticket info 512-471-1444 or www.BroadwayInAustin.com