BWW Review: CABARET at Manatee Performing Arts Center

BWW Review: CABARET at Manatee Performing Arts Center

Cabaret is a 1966 musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff. The original Broadway production became such a hit it inspired several productions and revivals in New York and premiered in London's West End in 1968. Cabaret, the film, was produced in 1972, directed by Bob Fosse, and starred Liza Minnelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey. The film is particularly known for Liza Minnelli's rendition of "Cabaret", a song she would come to sing in concert halls worldwide. It became her trademark.

Cabaret is set in 1931 during ominous times in Berlin, just as the Nazis are rising to power. We join in as audience members at a seedy Cabaret named Kit Kat Klub. We are greeted by the Emcee (Aaron Castle) who provides a risqué repertoire of lewd songs, erotic dances and suggestive wisecracks as he interacts with the Cabaret performers and the audience. Cabaret was written to bring to life the violent and foreboding times overshadowing Berlin's natives and expatriates. The Kit Kat Klub provides an entertaining getaway from the harsh reality that has a grip on Germany.

The story revolves around a young American writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Omar Montes) who comes to Berlin to work on his new novel. He meets a German man shortly after he arrives at the train station, Ernst Ludwig (Bradley Keville), who recommends a boarding house and the cabaret for some relaxing entertainment. He also mentions to Cliff that he and some of his friends would be happy to pay him for English lessons to learn our language better. Realizing he is a struggling writer, Ernst also offers Cliff a high paying position to occasionally deliver a suitcase full of novelties to Paris from time to time. Cliff is happy for the income and grateful to his new German friend. Cliff rents a room as suggested by Ernst from Fräulein Schneider. While at the Kit Kat Klub, Cliff meets British cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Cassandra Santiso) and is smitten. When Sally is fired from Kit Kat Klub she ends up at Cliff's door, asking for a place to stay. This is the start of their romance. The storyline also follows the doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider (Ellen Kleinschmidt) and her gentle and kind Jewish suitor, Herr Schultz (Rodd Dyer), a local fruit vendor.

Fräulein Schneider catches one of her boarders, Fräulein Kost (Michelle Anaya) bringing sailors into her room. Fräulein Schneider tells her not to commit that indiscretion again but Fräulein Kost threatens to move, and Fräulein Schneider needs the income. She also mentions that she has seen Fräulein Schneider with Herr Schultz in her room. Herr Schultz saves Fräulein Schneider's reputation by telling Fräulein Kost that he and Fräulein Schneider are to be married in three weeks. After Fräulein Kost leaves, Fräulein Schneider thanks Herr Schultz for lying to Fräulein Kost, however Herr Schultz tells her he was serious and proposes to her.

At Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz's engagement party, Cliff arrives and delivers the suitcase to Ernst. Looking for revenge on Fräulein Schneider, Fräulein Kost tells Ernst, who now reveals a Nazi armband, that Schultz is a Jew. Ernst warns Fräulein Schneider that marrying a Jew would not be good decision. Now we know that Ernst has been disingenuous with Cliff about who he is and his atrocious intentions. When he has another job for Cliff and Cliff refuses, Cliff is beaten by Ernst's bodyguards.

If Fräulein Schneider, a German marries Herr Schultz, a Jew, (even though he was born in Germany), she will face losing him and her only source of income, her boarding house. The charming and naughty Emcee at Kit Kat Klub has been marked as a homosexual. As the story progresses, many lives are on the line of people we have come to know. As their stories of friendships, and love and trust blossom before us, we understand them, know their history, and they become our friends. But we know what's coming.

This story is so poignant and a bitter reflection of the word in which we live today. How sad. And how very timely after the massacre we all witnessed at the synagogue in Pittsburgh recently. For the brief moments when we are the audience at the raucous Kit Kat Klub, like the characters in this musical, we have carefree moments - a chance to get away from it all. But then the events of the day creep back in and reality pierces our solace. Will we ever learn? Will we ever get along? Will we be the last generation? Because the next world war with be the last one.

In the final scene of this story we are back at Kit Kat Klub and all of our friends are there, but it feels different. It is unusually somber. There is a thickness in the air, a freighting omen. Our Emcee strips off his overcoat to reveal a concentration camp prisoner's uniform marked with a yellow Star of David, and a pink triangle. Our "friends" are lined up as a metal fence locks them in like innocent dogs being caged. White smoke fills the stage. Gas. Blackout. They are gone. The riveting end of this story and the lives that touched us briefly will break your heart, bring you to your knees and hopefully make you stop and think.

I saw Alan Cummings as Emcee in Cabaret on Broadway and if he had a son who could take on that role the way he did, with that boyish charm, charismatic personality and devilish teasing, it would be Aaron Castle. Mr. Castle did his homework and came prepared, not only vocally but also in persona. He filled some very big shoes of which this role demands. He exuded magnetism, particularly during "Willkommen". Cassandra Santiso Clifford played a passionate Sally and rocked "Don't Tell Mama", "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret". Omar Montes portrays his character well, being torn in so many directions. Bradley Keville's keen take on Ernst became the man we loved to hate. Ellen Kleinschmidt is pure magic. She gives Fräulein Schneider her heart and soul and will tear your heart out in "What Would You Do". Michelle Anaya lends some spirit to Fräulein Kost, who is a sassy troublemaker and shows off her vocal aptitude in in "Tomorrow Belongs to Me". Rodd Dyer was a perfect match for Fräulein Schneider and their delightful duet "It Couldn't Please Me More" was charming. Mr. Dyer portrayed his character with a gentle sweetness that made it all the harder to watch the way in which he was being treated. Ken Mooney's artfully crafted set quickly morphs from a train station to the Kit Kat Klub and Fräulein Schneider's boarding house. Joseph P. Oshry added innovative lighting techniques that reflected the hues of emotions throughout this program. Kudos to Conductor/keyboard William Coleman and the orchestra for your lively renderings of some of Broadway's most iconic tunes.

With Pittsburgh on my mind and such a dramatic ending that had just played out before me, I could not compose myself enough to thank the cast for their brilliance, as they waited in the lobby greeting audience members on their way out.

Brace yourself and go see this inspired production of Cabaret.

Brilliantly staged by Rick Kerby, Cabaret runs through November 11, 2018 at Manatee Performing Arts Center. For more information about MPAC and their upcoming performances visit

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From This Author Carolan Trbovich

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