BWW Review: NYNE'S CABARET A DAZZLING, CAUTIONARY TALE at Portico
I was a blank page and opening night, the NYNE cast of Cabaret left permanent marks all over me. A latecomer to the live theatre world, I knew a movie and musical existed, and it is important to me to cross this classic musical off my list of must-sees. I'd heard some of the songs because they occasionally popped up in my musicals playlist on Spotify, but had no idea what the show is about. I try not to research before going to a performance because I want to see if the cast can tell me the story. The uneasy juxtaposition of a seedy cabaret of sexy guys and girls in lingerie where anything could happen, showcased in a church community center only added to this stunning, provocative production. The show would have lost its impact without the choice of live music, under the masterful direction of Joseph Scarbrough. I had no idea the audience would be entertained by a titillating cabaret while the world is falling apart. I didn't realize a musical written in 1966, revised in 1998, would sadly be art imitating life.
At the Kit Kat Club in Germany is an emcee. He's the voice and the pace of this production about the beginnings of anti-Semitism and the rise of the Nazis. As the emcee, Allan Anderson is born to play this role. Through multiple costume changes, he metamorphoses from a light-hearted and funny master of ceremonies to bone-chilling and ominous in a matter of two acts. His voice is incredible, comic timing spot on and his song and dance in the second act "If You Could See Her" with a gorilla left me scratching my head until he gave his last line. Again, a sucker punch.
Expertly directed by April Smith Golombek and choreographed by Miriam Spada, Cabaret weaves the tale of American writer Clifford Bradshaw (James Faurote) who moves to the decadent city of Berlin to write his novel, moments before history changed for the worse. James owns the role, with slicked hair looking like he stepped out the Golden Age of Movies. He is gifted with a vocal tone that when he speaks you want to listen.
On a train to Berlin, Cliff is befriended by German Ernst Ludwig (Neil Bleiweiss), who finds him a place to stay with Fraulein Schneider (Madeline Hebert) and regales him with a tale of a libidinous nightclub with "phones on every table." Men and women can make connections with a simple phone call.
Starring front and center at the Kit Kat Club is Sally Bowles (Jennifer Morgan), a beautiful, powerful singer who calls the American to join her for a drink, though Cliff also has a scheduled dalliance with one of the male dancers, a young man he was involved with in Paris. After one interaction, Sally steamrolls over Cliff, moving into his rented flat, against the better wishes of owner Fraulein Schneider to become a roommate - with benefits.
When Sally and Cliff share their first kiss, one of the funnier moments happens off-stage. The newlywed wife pipes up from the audience "that's my husband" and the audience reacts as expected. To their professionalism, Jennifer and James are nonplussed and continue the scene.
Cliff's neighbors include Fraulein Kost (Kayla Kopeck) who pays rent by "entertaining" sailors in her flat -also has an incredible voice. Fraulein Schneider has finally agreed to marry longtime grocer Herr Schultz (Bob Whitmore). The giddy, loving interaction between the older couple seems completely genuine and both the actors have incredible pipes. It is truly heartbreaking when she cancels the wedding when his pedigree is revealed at the close of act one.
When Cliff needs more money to pay for the flat and a not-so-unexpected surprise, though his friend Ernst takes English lessons from him, he provides him an opportunity to earn more money, by picking up and delivering briefcases of unknown contents. I really liked Ernst and felt so conflicted when he reveals his true colors.
The acting, choreography, and vocals in this production are star-quality. From Sally and the Kit Kat girls playful "Don't Tell Mama," the romantic Cliff and Sally duet "Perfectly Marvelous," the beautiful number with Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz "It Couldn't Please Me More" to the fabulous "Money" by the emcee, Kit Kat boys and girls, and ensemble, a bad note cannot be found.
When Jennifer sings" "Cabaret" through tears at the close of the production, it is mesmerizing and devastating and the showstopper it is meant to be.
As the world outside invades the sanctity of Kit Kat Club, the revelation of the emcee's finale costume change and that the majority of the entire cast are wearing swastikas sucks the air from the room. We, the audience, enchanted by the naughty performances, the sexy choreography, the love stories and the dissolution thereof, are made complicitous in the crimes that happened before our eyes. This cautionary tale, a masterpiece of musical theater, examines what happens while we are being seduced, distracted, and made to look the other way while the world deteriorates around us.