BWW Review: Fuse Theatre Ensemble Takes CABARET to a Whole New Level of Dark, Right Where It Belongs
The last time I saw CABARET was a few years ago when the national tour played the Keller. I remember thinking at the time that the production, with its blond, bubbly Sally Bowles, was too bright and cheerful, like they'd stripped away all of the pain and desperation in favor of showiness. Fuse Theatre Ensemble's CABARET, directed by Rusty Tennant, does the exact opposite. It adds a few extra layers of pain and desperation. The result is a CABARET that makes a lot more sense, especially given the parallels between the play's setting -- a Germany on the cusp of descending into fascism -- and America today.
The minute you see Sally Bowles, played perfectly marvelously by Gwendolyn Duffy, you know this CABARET is different. As she makes her entrance onto the Kit Kat Club stage to perform the playfully naughty "Don't Tell Mama," Sally is anything but playful. She looks empty, that is, until a little cocaine instantly transforms her from worn out to wired. Rather than a silly thing who flits from here to there, following every impulse, the Sally here has been chewed up and spit out so many times she can no longer muster any caring for anything or anyone, including herself. It's a disturbing but brilliant take on the character, and Duffy masters the dark intensity -- not to mention she has the agile, powerful voice -- required to make it work.
Another change Tennant made was to the Kit Kat Club. Rather than being an oasis of pleasure, where life is beautiful and people are be free to be themselves, the club is a mean place where the performers are regularly beaten, showing up on stage with progressively darker bruises and deeper cuts. I was unsure about this at first, but I came around. There are no safe spaces in a world that's falling apart, and the people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder always have it the worst.
Finally, this production puts more emphasis on sexuality, in particular Clifford's struggle with his own. Tennant makes some other interesting decisions, as well, like suggesting that Ernst is gay, which pits his politics against his identity.
The cast for this daring production is excellent. In particular, Ernie Lijoi both made me laugh and broke my heart as the Emcee, as did Glenn Williams and Dmae Roberts as the ill-fated lovers Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider. Their story gets me every time, but it got me this time a little more as it made me think about all of our fellow citizens whose American-ness is currently being questioned. I was also impressed by Sara Fay Goldman and her strong, soulful voice.
CABARET is one of my favorite musicals. Although I've seen it several times, this production made me see it anew. I thought it was fantastic.
CABARET runs at the Funhouse Lounge through June 2. You should absolutely see it. Details and tickets here.