BWW Review: Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan's CABARET Lacks Grit, Pace, and Meaning
John Kander and Fred Ebb's "Cabaret" is a bit of a perplexing show for me. Perplexing in that it's done quite often, and it shouldn't be. It should only be done if you can do justice to the story. With a book by Joe Masteroff and based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, the themes in the play are complex and dark with a bite underlying the sweetness and fun. And when combined with Kander and Ebb's songs which tell stories all on their own, the show has promise to be a gut punch. Unfortunately, the current production from the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society, while having some wonderful voices, continually misses the mark on the story making the show an uneven revue of fun numbers but no depth.
The tale of Cliff Bradshaw (Christopher Puckett), who's basically Isherwood, as he maneuvers the complexities of love and politics in war torn Berlin, has so much to touch upon. There's the relationship with him and Kit Kat Klub chanteuse Sally Bowles (Tanesha Ross). There are his other dalliances with men as he explores his homosexuality. There's his relationship with Ernst Ludvig (Kenon Vernon) who's Nazi loyalty doesn't mesh with Cliff's morality. There's his relationship with Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz (Teri Lee Thomas and Mark Rabe) as he decides how far his ideals will take him. And there's his relationship with the Kit Kat Klub itself as his escape from the real world. Plus, the complex interpersonal relations of all those characters with each other in this tumultuous time where neighbors turned on neighbors. And all of it must be led by Cliff as well as the Master of Ceremonies at the Klub (Casey DeCaire) as he subversively conveys the attitudes through the numbers at the Klub.
The problem with this production is that those complexities were ham-fistedly pointed at, and then all but lost. We do salvage some of them in the relationship between Schneider and Schultz but that's not enough in a story where they're the B plotline. The direction and staging from Phil Lacey don't help, with the clunky transitions, bad sight lines, and actors who fail to connect. The tone of the world itself is entirely too clean and shiny, and the numbers in the Kit Kat Klub failed to convey their underlying meaning. Also not helping is the choreography from Alyza DelPan-Monley that kept trying to create button tableaus but failed since by the time the actors got clumsily positioned to create the button, there was no time for the moment to hit and it was off to try and quickly set up the next one. Plus, that oddly chaotic rendition of "Mein Herr" with the performers waving around straps did nothing but obscure the main performer. Sometimes less is definitely more.
The band is quite good as led by Music Director Brandon Peck and even features of some the actors at times. And the actors have their individual moments. Ross' "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret" manage some depth when she's left alone on stage. Rabe and Thomas' scenes are heartbreakingly sweet and Thomas' "What Would You Do?" is the most powerful number of the night. But the moments are too few and far between and are entirely too individual as many are not in the world but in their own show. DeCaire has a fine voice but was "playing" the eccentric and slightly weird M.C. instead of being him. And Puckett was so one-note that I often forgot he was there which is deadly for the main character.
To put it simply, the production is betrayed by wanting to "put on the show" rather than tell the story and that's what perplexes me most about its profusion as that's where most productions fail, yet few shy away from it. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production of "Cabaret" an exhausted MEH-. I've seen too many productions of this, some great but too many where they just sing well, and the story deserves more.
"Cabaret" from The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society performs at 12th Ave Arts through December 15th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlegilbertandsullivan.com.