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Review: CABARET National Tour at Durham Performing Arts Center

Based on John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera which was adapted from Christopher Isherwood's short story Goodbye to Berlin, Cabaret is based in the nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub as the Nazis were rising to power in Berlin back in 1931. The action is overseen by a Master of Ceremonies with the club serving as a metaphor for some of the ominous political developments in late Weimar Germany. The story revolves around 19-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with the young American writer Clifford Bradshaw. A sub-plot involves a doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider and her suitor Herr Schultz.

The original production directed by Harold Prince made its Broadway debut on November 20th, 1966. It would go on to win 8 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) on the very first Tony Awards broadcast on national television, and a run of 1,165 performances after closing on September 6th, 1969. A film adaptation directed by Bob Fosse was released in 1972 which would win 8 Academy Awards (the most for any film that didn't win Best Picture as The Godfather took the prize that year). This current national touring production is based on the 1998 Broadway revival presented by Roundabout Theatre Company that originally debuted at the Donmar Warehouse in London five years earlier. It was the first Broadway directing credits for Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall before successfully making their transitions into film (Mendes with American Beauty and Marshall with the film adaptation of Kander & Ebb's Chicago; both of which ended up winning the Oscar for Best Picture). It became the third longest-running revival in Broadway history, winning 4 Tony Awards (including Best Revival of a Musical), and was recently remounted in 2014.

The way this production has successfully been approached is not as a musical, but as a play with music set in and around a night club. Director B.T. McNicholl re-creates the incredible staging by having it all take place in a basic unit set designed by Robert Brill with some intriguing book scenes as well as some great entertainment taking place inside the Kit Kat Klub. Add to that some dazzling lighting designed by Mike Baldassari & Peggy Eisenhauer and some authentic costumes designed by North Carolina native William Ivey Long. Cynthia Onrubia also does a terrific job re-creating Rob Marshall's original choreography from the production. The onstage band brings John Kander's music to life through such glorious orchestrations by the late, great Michael Gibson with a talented cast singing some catchy lyrics by the late, great Fred Ebb.

Randy Harrison is such an absolute marvel to watch on stage as the Emcee, that you really wonder what he's about to do next. Andrea Goss gives a fierce performance as Sally Bowles. Her standout moments include her renditions of the songs 'Maybe This Time' and the title song, 'Cabaret'. Lee Aaron Rosen gives a very naturalistic performance as Clifford Bradshaw. Shannon Cochran is so moving as Fraulein Schneider, that the audience applauds for her as she makes her exit in Act II. She is well-matched with Mark Nelson as her suitor, Herr Schultz.

The only gripe I can think of is that I didn't completely understand the ending. Without giving much away, but I did understand what the Emcee was doing at the end of the show. With that being said, audiences may still find it confusing and probably too dark. But as what all great theatre can do, it does get you thinking about it.

While some may be put off by some of the content on display here, I think if 'You Could See It Through My Eyes', you should be into it. As the lyrics go, 'What good is sitting alone in your room? Come here the music play. Life is a Cabaret old chum, come to the Cabaret.'

For more information regarding the tour, please visit:

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