BWW Review: CABARET at Connecticut Repertory Theatre
When the world outside is challenging, political tensions are escalating, uncertainty is in the air and pressures are building to the breaking point, what can you do? If you lived in Berlin in the early 1930's you might have found yourself escaping from the rise of Nazism by visiting an avant-garde performance at one of many cabarets in the city. If, instead, it is 2019 and you are also looking for a bit of escapism of your own, you might head to the University of Connecticut to take in the latest production in the CT Repertory Theatre's 2019 Nutmeg Summer Series, CABARET.
If you are not familiar with John Kander and Fred Ebb's hit 1966 musical, CABARET, it is set in the late 1920's/early 1930's, anf tells the story of a young writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Rob Barnes) who travels to Berlin to work on his latest novel. He meets businessman Ernst Ludwig (Aidan Machetti) on the train who proceeds to direct him to a place to stay, a boarding house operated by Fraulein Schneider (Dee Hoty). Once settled, Cliff begins to explore the city, and pays a New Year's Eve visit to the Kit Kat Klub, where he is immediately taken by headliner Sally Bowles (Laura Michelle Kelly). The Kit Kat Klub is home to a group of young men and women who perform edgy, provocative numbers for the patrons, guided by the mysterious Emcee (Forrest McClendon). Over time Cliff and Sally's lives become more and more intertwined, while outside, political tensions and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany is eminent. This has major implications on everyone and forces some heartbreaking choices to be made, leading to an inevitable, yet chilling conclusion.
CABARET is a musical that has seen quite a bit of evolution over the past 50+ years. With a number of songs and plot lines that have been added and cut over various productions, it is always interesting to see how a production will approach the material. Director Scott LaFeber has opted to keep in many of the elements reintroduced during recent Broadway revivals (including the addition of songs written for the CABARET movie starring Liza Minelli). These additions work very well as they stand and accentuate some of the best parts of the production. Overall, Mr. LaFeber's direction is perfectly fitting for the piece. The overall result is a solid, sensual, and completely satisfying production.
The cast of CT Rep's CABARET is like a gift from Broadway heaven. First, and foremost, Laura Michelle Kelly is on fire as Sally Bowles. Each and every one of her numbers raises the roof, with her delivery of "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret" standing out the most. Her group numbers with the Kit Kat girls and boys are full of raw energy and beautiful tension, making this reviewer very happy they kept both "Don't Tell Mama" and "Mein Herr" in the show. As Cliff Bradshaw, Rob Barnes does a solid job conveying the clean-cut American with secrets of his own. Dee Hoty, a long-time favorite of this reviewer, is absolutely brilliant as Fraulein Schneider, delivering a performance that is funny, endearing, and heartbreaking. Her second act number, "What Would You Do?" is marvelous, striking the perfect emotional balance to Sally's bigger and bolder numbers. As Frau Schneider's beau, Herr Schultz, Jonathan Brody is wonderful. The couple's songs together bring a smile, and his characterization of the Jewish fruit seller is spot on. Finally, as the erstwhile Emcee, Forrest McClendon is mysterious and provocative, though toned down from more recent interpretations of the role. The rest of the ensemble is great, as well, giving high-energy performances all around.
The creative design for CABARET is simple, yet quite effective, especially Alexander Woodward's German industrial background and Fan Zheng's revealing and period-perfect costumes. The music is delivered brilliantly by a nine-piece orchestra ("even the orchestra is beautiful!") directed by music director Ken Clifton and the choreography by Christopher d'Amboise is frenetic, energetic, and fresh.
CT Rep's CABARET is a brilliant interpretation of a classic. It is an important story that should continue to be told, and is delivered in a fresh, vibrant way with a stellar cast. Whether you have seen CABARET before or are new to the debauchery, I encourage you to make the trip to Storrs for this one. It is moving, provocative, emotional and entertaining and definitely worth your time.
CABARET by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) runs at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT through July 21. Evening performances start at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinee performances start at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Subscription package options range from $56 to $78. Single tickets prices start at $48. For additional ticket information or to purchase tickets by phone, call 860.486.2113. Discounts are available for seniors and students. To purchase tickets online, visit www.crt.uconn.edu.
Top Photo Credit - Laura Michelle Kelly as Sally Bowles, Kit Kat Girls L to R (Emma Dowdy, Sydney Skye, Madeline Dunn, Torie D'alllesandro in CABARET onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through July 21. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Mid Photo Credit - Dee Hoty as Fraulein Schneider and Jonathan Brody as Herr Schultz in in CABARET onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through July 21. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.
Bottom Photo Credit - Rob Barnes (Cliff Bradshaw) and Laura Michelle Kelly (Sally Bowles) in CABARET onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through July 21. Tickets and info at crt.uconn.edu. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.