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BWW Review: CABARET at Des Moines Playhouse


Come hear the music play through September 26

BWW Review: CABARET at Des Moines Playhouse
Cast of "Cabaret
Photo by Steve Gibbons

If you've been sitting alone in your house this last year, it's time to head over to Des Moines Playhouse to hear the music play. On September 10, they opened up their first production since 2019, where they opened their full house for tickets. While you may think this would be a place to put a light and fun show to welcome back audiences, they've taken a risk and put up a colorful yet dark production of Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret." The risk pays off as it gives the audience a powerful show that reminds me of everything I love about theatre. A production that not only lets the audience feel but leaves them thinking as well.

If you haven't seen a production or the classic movie of "Cabaret," the show tells the story of a seedy nightclub during the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. We meet our Emcee for the evening, introducing the audience to the ladies and men on stage at the Kit Kat Club and slowly introducing other characters. One of those characters is Clifford Bradshaw, an American who has traveled to Germany to write and soon falls for the toast of the Kit Kat Club Sally Bowles. As the show's first act comes to an end, we see the rise of the Nazi Party and its effect on each of these characters as we find out Herr Schultz is a Jew. They move into an apartment, where Fraulein Schneider has found that she has feelings for Herr Schultz. As the Nazis come to power, the show takes a dark turn in the second act, leading to an emotional ending that the audience won't soon forget.

"Don't Tell Mama," but this version of "Cabaret" isn't your typical production. Under the direction of David A VanCleave, this production takes what you think you know about this show and twist it into a production you won't soon forget. As soon as you walk into the theatre, you are immersed in this production and become an audience member of the Kit Kat Club, thanks to Jay Jagim's set design stretching out into the audience and even having some onstage seating for the audience. One way they play with the normal production is through the set and costumes. The colors he uses in the paintings on the brick panels that stretch out into the theatre become some of the colors used in the Angela Lampe's costumes of the Kit Kat Club girl's outfits, which provide a pop of color to a show that usually plays with duller colors. VanCleave's direction plays even more with this concept as we see the Kit Kat Club dancers moving the sets for scene changes. He also does something very subtle with his staging that I didn't quite catch until partway through the show. During the scenes outside the Kit Kat Club, one of the dancers was strategically placed in view but hidden from the audience.

One of the most creative choices made by VanCleave was in the casting of the MC. Typically when you see a production of "Cabaret," the Emcee is played by a male actor, but in this production, Emcee is played by actress Deidra Mohr. While Mohr is making her Playhouse Debut, she is no stranger to Des Moines Audiences. Mohr has been seen onstage in multiple stagings of "The Rocky Horror Show" with Kata Klysmic Productions and won a Cloris Award for her performance within Theatre Midwest production of "The Friendly Hour." What was great about Mohr's Emcee was how it became this gender-neutral role, which fit so well with the show. It brought new layers to the character that I had never seen or thought of before. As she slowly started to reveal who her Emcee was, especially in Act 2, your heart broke and led to one of the most powerful endings I have seen in Cabaret.

The show also features several additional outstanding performances. Returning to the Playhouse stage in the role of Sally Bowls is Maggie Schmitt, whose rendition of "Cabaret" brought a rousing applause from the audience. This cast also features Craig Peterson and Jill Ziegler returning to the Playhouse stage as Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider. Both do a fantastic job of bringing these pivotal characters to the stage. As their characters start to fall in love, you can't help but find yourself falling for them as well. This makes the ending of act 1 even more shocking as you know what it will mean for their characters.

Theatre is an art form that challenges its audiences to take a few hours and contemplate the world around them. While the last year has been spent adjusting to the current world around us, returning to a theatre is refreshing. I can't think of a better way to return that with a production that at times is fun, but at other times is very thought-provoking. Des Moines Playhouse's production of "Cabaret" does just that. It invites the audience to come in for a fun evening, and by the end of act one and ultimately the show, has the audience stunned to silence. That's the power of theatre. This is a production that's not to be missed. To get tickets to Cabaret, visit

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