BWW Review: CABARET at Olney Theatre Center Is Extraordinary!
It is not often that a theater's program can be enlightening to what you are about to see. One has to take a close look at the CABARET program cover which shows the face of a woman behind a red curtain, with red lipstick, and if you look closely at her left eye ball, there it is...the symbol of Nazism, a swastika. Brilliant.
The program's cover was in essence telling us, the audience, to slap onto our seat belts because we are going on a ride back in time to 1930's Germany, between the wars, and the beginning of its downfall.
CABARET opened on Broadway in 1966 with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, book by Joe Masteroff based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood. In 1972, Bob Fosse directed the successful film version which starred Liza Minelli and Joel Grey.
I was fortunate to see this CABARET at Studio 54 (Tony winner for Best Revival) and really enjoyed it. It sarred Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams.
But, I am here to say I think Director Alan Paul's version at Olney is he best CABARET I have ever seen. You may have seen the film or other versions, but none can compare to the one being presented currently at Olney.
Let me start by stating I am a huge fan of Director Paul who is making his Olney Theatre debut as a director and I am sure this will not be his last. Paul is the Associate Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company. I have seen his tremendous productions of musicals such as CAMELOT, KISS ME KATE, MAN OF LA MANCHA, and A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.
And once again, Paul has established himself as a quintessential Director of musical theater!
The musical is set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are beginning to rise in popularity. The setting at the beginning of the play focuses on a seedy nightclub, the Kit Kat Klub which features a British singer, Sally Bowles, the superb voiced Alexandra Silber. The nightclub is run by a Master of Ceremonies, named the Emcee and Mason Alexander Park is just plain astonishing.
Arriving from the U.S. is Cliff Bradshaw, the always terrific Gregory Maheu, who plans to write a novel. He is shown a place to live by Ernest Ludwig, Tom Story in a sleazy role. It is a boarding house run by widow Fraulein Schneider, (the amazing Donna Migliaccio in her best role I have ever seen her in) who the end of the play is engaged to Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz (the talented Mitchell Hebert).
When one walks into the theater your jaw drops at the gorgeous set design by Wilson Chin. You see the Kit Kat Club in all its glory with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, five steps which seem to blend right into the audience and the lights will later light up whenever an actor steps on them thanks to Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills.
Choreographer Katie Spelman has the Kit Kat Girls and Kit Kat Boys dancing up a storm and during one scene they dance together and like in the hit musical THE PRODUCERS, just try to figure out who is male and who is female. It is a stirring moment when they present a kick line and they slowly morph into a goose step.
Kendra Rai does wonders as the Costume Designer and has her dancers in garter belts and fishnet stockings.
One can hear every word thanks to Sound Designer Matt Rowe.
You can purchase tickets and sit on the stage to the left and right of the Kit Kat Club. You will be in the middle of all the action.
The fabulous 11 piece orchestra sits underneath a mirror facing the audience with lovely music stands. Leading them is the Director of Music Theatre at OTC, Christopher Youstra, who also plays the piano and accordion.
After the show I interviewed Youstra about some songs added to the musical from the film, excluded from the show.
He related, "So the movie added "Maybe This Time" and "Money" which bother ended up in the Cummings revival in 1998 (which is the licensed version). "Money" replaced a song called "Sitting Pretty" which I snuck in as underscoring in our production as an homage. "Mein Heir" was also added from the movie to this version. From the original production, numbers cut include "Telephone Song", "Why Should I Wake Up (sung by Cliff) and "Meeskite" (sung by Herr Schultz). "I Don't Care Much" was added to the first revival and then became part of the licensed version after the 1998 revival. I had a little fun re-orchestrating that one."
There is a very moving song that will bring on goose-bumps, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." I was surprised to see this song first sung by a young boy in Act 1 (Patrick Ford). The song is added again at the end of Act 1 led by Jessica Lauren Ball (Fraulein Kost), Ludwig, and company. The Emcee then walks center stage with an old radio and you hear the voice of Adolf Hitler. What a stirring moment!
Youstra commented about having both a young boy and an older boy singing "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" at different times. "We had one live singing it in the Klub...Having a young boy singing the song first was my idea but making it a number in the cabaret was Alan's." Brilliant!
I applaud Dramaturg Katie Ciszek for two articles in the program about the history behind the play. Get to the play early to read them.
Expect to get chills in the short second act when Swanstikas seem to envelope the stage. I will not ruin the outcome for those unfamiliar with the show.
Just make sure you see this amazing ingenious production. It certainly proves the power of theater!
CABARET runs until October 6, 2019. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
Next up at Olney is THE ROYALE running Sept. 25 to Oct. 27. It's a DC Area Premiere.
APPLAUSE CONCERT SERIES Friday night, October 11, 2019
For one night only, see a concert version of KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN at 8 p.m.
Several members of the CABARET cast will be performing: Jessica Lauren Ball, Gregory Maheu, Donna Migliaccio, Mason Alexander Park, Connor James Reilly, and Tom Story. Patricia Hurley is the Spiderwoman. Christoopher Youstra serves as Artistic Director and Musical Director.
THIS AND THAT
The Kennedy Center features opening of their new expansion with three above-ground pavilions and an outdoor concert stage. It runs September 7 to the 22. It's all FREE!!! Check out www.Kennedy-Center.org/REACH.
On September 11 you can attend a Master Class with composer Alan Menken.
There will be a concert that evening of Menken's Broadway music with the National Symphony at 8 p.m. and a rehearsal at 1:30 p.m. You will hear songs from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, ALADDIN, and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
You can get tickets by calling 202-467-4600.
Also coming to the Kennedy Center are CATS (September 17 to October 6), WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME (September 11-22) and FOOTLOSE, part of the Broadway Center Stage program October 9 to the 13th.
Check out the Free Kickoff Party of Theatre Week.Org on Saturday, September 7 at Arena Stage from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be 35 theatres and performances all day. Theatre Week runs from Sept. 10 to 29, 2019 to get $15 and $35 theatre tickets to Ford's, Signature, Studio, and many more. Visit www.Theatreweek.org.