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Review: CABARET Makes For A Truly Beautiful Theatrical Experience

The touring production of Roundabout Theatre Company's CABARET dazzles just as much as it did on Broadway--where it was a critical and commercial success both from 1998-2004 and more recently, when it was remounted from March 2014-March 2015. Now Chicago audiences have the opportunity to witness original director Sam Mendes and co-director/choreographer Rob Marshall's stunning, beautifully constructed musical revival--undoubtedly one of the best I've ever seen. Robert Brill's Broadway set design is replicated almost exactly here, setting the stage with a powerful mix of glitz and decrepitness. The split-level stage showcases a large, lopsided frame with bright shining bulbs--though some are conspicuously missing. Like John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical itself (with book by Joe Masteroff), this tour staging captures the vivacious and entertaining atmosphere of 1930s Berlin while also allowing us to clearly see the cracks beneath the surface. William Ivey Long's masterful costumes also strike this balance. And, of course, so do the performances. When the Kit Kat Klub ladies (portrayed here by Alison Ewing, Margaret Dudasik, Hillary Ekwall, Aisling Halpin, and Dani Spieler) walk onstage during CABARET's famous opening number "Willkommen," they execute their choreography with precision--but the looks of disdain and apathy on their faces indicate they'd rather be elsewhere. And yet, these captivating performances keep audiences engaged.

The leading players in the touring cast of CABARET similarly do not disappoint. Randy Harrison has big shoes to fill as the Emcee, and he handles the role capably. Harrison dives with ease into the naughty and playful side of the role, relishing more uptempo songs such as "Two Ladies" and "Money." But I wished to see more of a dark, sinister side to the performance. While audiences understand that the Nazis' rise to power lurks in the background of CABARET's earlier moments, the Emcee is the only character in those instances who has the ability to foreshadow the tragic darkness to come.

Andrea Goss makes a "perfectly marvelous" Sally Bowles (who understudied the role on Broadway). She gives the full emotional arc of the character, from initially playful and seductive to vulnerable and broken by show's end. As a performer, Goss exudes confidence and performs her upbeat diegetic numbers with aplomb, but also allows us to see a more troubled side below Sally's shiny veneer. Goss also has a phenomenal singing voice--her rendition of "Maybe This Time" is both technically expert and emotionally chilling. And Goss's take on the title song is a highlight in the second act. As the American novelist Cliff Bradshaw, Lee Aaron Rosen provides a great counterpart to Goss. Rosen makes it easy for audiences to see how Sally could fall under Cliff's spell, yet also nails the naivete of his character. As Sally remarks to him at one point, "Darling, you're such an innocent." Rosen's Cliff is alluring, but also clearly has room to mature and grow--echoing the character's decisions. Local Chicago actor Shannon Cochran and Mark Nelson are both delightful as CABARET's secondary older couple, the Christian Fraulein Schneider and the Jewish Herr Schultz. Cochran maintains a convincing German accent throughout the show and imbibes a great deal of emotion into both of her solo numbers, as well as in duets. Nelson's Herr Schultz exudes earnestness and tenderness. Audiences will so want to root for this couple--though we know the story will likely not end well. Alison Ewing (who performed in the original 1998 revival cast) has the exact snark and attitude necessary for Fraulein Kost--and also sings beautifully. And accolades must be given to Kit Kat Klub boy Leeds Hill, who continues from Broadway in his role as Kit Kat boy Bobby--he continues to delight and amuse, especially in "Two Ladies."

This touring production of CABARET remounts this truly beautiful staging for national audiences. CABARET initially functions to entertain but also becomes incredibly poignant, heartbreaking, and astounding. When Goss as Sally sings about how "life is a cabaret," we partially believe it--but we also know that that glittering, beguiling facade has cracked.

CABARET runs through February 21 at The PrivateBank Theatre, 18 West Monroe Street. Tickets are $25-$108 and can be purchased online at, by phone 800.775.2000, or in person at any Broadway in Chicago Box Office (24 West Randolph Street, 151 West Randolph Street, 18 West Monroe Street, and 175 East Chestnut).

Photo by Joan Marcus

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