BWW Review: CABARET Scintillates at Utah Valley University

BWW Review: CABARET Scintillates at Utah Valley UniversityFull disclosure: I have a son whose stairway to the professional footlights included a Utah university acting program, so it's a great joy for me to be intrigued by a collegiate production. Students are gifted a near-professional theater experience, but also clearly having a great time on stage.

Utah Valley University's dramatically burgeoning Theatre Department stages a scintillating, highly entertaining CABARET, under direction, choreography and music direction by Rob Moffat.

In terms of Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival award-winning productions and lead performances, UVU boasts many honors, with Moffat directly participating in the musicals' productions as music director (including the Broadway-aimed "In the Light" workshop). Here he steps out of that role to own this staging's vision. Sadly, this is his UVU swan song, learning that he was out of a job two days prior to CABARET's opening.

It's a delight to see in Utah's most conservative hinterlands a production so true in tone to CABARET's intent, and Moffat shows vibrant work. The choreography is highly laudable, with all the brassy spread-eagle moves and provocative dance steps you'd expect while still some surprises. (Although Bob Fosse may be the nearly forgotten author of sexually charged modern musicals, he was only directly involved in the standalone film version; yet his stamp has followed each Broadway revival of CABARET.)

The set, costume and lighting is all student-designed, and each with eye-popping elements. Immediately appealing is Madeline Ashton's diamond-shaped set, with elevated platforms at each of the diamond points and a few audience members immersively seated at tables within the unique shape. Carolyn Urban wisely uses each penny of the costume budget with multiple sparkling designed wardrobe pieces. Lighting Designer Emma Eugenia Belnap and Sound Designer Gavin Henry contribute strongly to the show's success.

Kiersten Zundel is a very strong Fraulein Schneider, playing a character many years beyond her own. Ardon Smith's Herr Schultz capably supports her. Brennan Newkirk as Emcee has the signature character down to perfection, with the eye winks and sexual fluidity vividly in place. The ensemble dancers, that includes cross-dressers, get an enthusiastic heil Hitler salute. Jordan Briggs flairs in his songs as Cliff.

And Sam Sanduk as Sally? Nice, very nice. When she's not naughty. Natch, Liza Minnelli is most associated with the role, but her powerhouse vocals are really at odds with the character. Sally is a wanna-be chanteuse, not a Broadway luminary. Sanduk's confident vocals are striking, nice and naughty.

Lady CABARET passed her 50-year birthday a few years ago, but she still appears to be a revolutionary, trailblazing dame. Yes, Joel Grey first sang "Willkommen" in 1966. And also notable that Christopher Isherwood published "The Berlin Stories," the semi-autobiographical collection that served as the source for the musical, in 1945 -- with the narrator a thinly veiled stand-in for the author. (Isherwood was gay, but while he was writing he couldn't admit that. And America can track its attitude toward homosexuality through the progressive outing of Cliff.)

For musical-theater aficionados, note that Moffet selected the 1987 version, with lead character Cliff's implied bisexuality; while in the 1998 version, he is clearly gay/bisexual. Also, this version does not include "Mein Herr" and "Maybe This Time," written for the film adaptation. (And if my conclusion carries merit, the 1987 version most strongly presents the devastation of the Nazi takeover theme.) The Kit Kat Klub crowd may be damned in the end, but CABARET is a damn good time.

Are you a fan of CABARET? This is a must-see. Not familiar with CABARET on stage (shocking!): definitely a must-see. I'd also recommend the Moffat-helmed production to those with a casual interest in the show. Also, hello, Utah County.

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From This Author Blair Howell

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