Photos by Carol Johnk
|Nate Sullivan as Cliff Bradshaw; Ashley Sorensen as Sally Bowles|
Set in Berlin just as the Nazis are beginning to rise, Cabaret tells a pair of parallel love stories. Struggling American writer Cliff Bradshaw is caught off-guard by British dance hall girl Sally Bowles (Ashley Sorensen). Meanwhile, his aging landlady Fräulein Schneider (Linda Merritt) is being patiently wooed by another resident in the boarding house, Jewish grocer Herr Schultz (Chris Carpenter). The show's primary story, though, is that of a country struggling to maintain normalcy and sanity in the face of the coming fascist onslaught. The audience knows what is to come, but watching the way each character deals with the growing realization that their world is changing forces us to consider how we would react.
Director Josh Sazon, in his Director's Note, ponders the mystery of this show's longevity. Many 50-yr-old musicals, he argues, are enjoyed "more from nostalgia" than anything else. However, "Cabaret can still shock when done correctly, even in the age of twerking." That shock, in case you're curious, is NOT (necessarily) from the dancing girls. Cabaret speaks to concerns and values that still trouble us today. Without getting too political (*cough* As Sally says, "What's that have to do with us?" ...), watching the openly gay characters singing proudly along with the patriotic anthem "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" evokes the same heartache as watching the doomed revolutionaries in Les Misérables enthusiastically singing "Red and Black". Truly, everyone in Cabaret is doomed - a play set in the wind up to war can promise nothing less - but we love them anyway, to a person, even the characters we're meant to hate.
Some altogether stellar acting precipitates this affection. The character of Ernst Ludwig (Carl Brown), especially, must be lovable to be effective. Brown pulls of this charm with aplomb. His easy rapport with Cliff sets the audience up to have a compassion for him that we can never quite let go. Another stand-out performance is Lindsay Vincent as Fräulein Kost. The character is an example of a type that hits home for many - just trying to get by the only way she knows how, and attempting to keep people happy along the way. Vincent's performance is hilarious and solid; she steals nearly every scene she's in.
|Linda Merritt as Fräulein Schneider; |
Chris Carpenter as Herr Schultz
Aside from those two songs, though, the staging is wonderful. There are some inevitable sightline issues at the Johnson County Fairgrounds, but overall, Sazon uses the space quite well. The set design (by Rich Riggleman) is elegant - the scenes move in and out of one another with simple grace, and the transitions seem easy and well-practiced. The colors and angles in the Kit Kat Club design are eerily reminiscent of Nazi symbolism.
No mention of staging would be complete, though, without discussion of the amazing collaboration between director Sazon and Robert Kemp as the Master of Ceremonies. Kemp is impossible to ignore, no matter what he's doing, and Sazon ensures that he is always doing something. Kemp is incredible in his movement work, and makes full use of his near-omnipresence to assure us that we are not here for a good time. He becomes steadily more ominous as the show progresses, until, ultimately, it seems as though the other characters are merely puppets. He is deliberate with the audience, as well, always maintaining eye contact *just* long enough to be uncomfortable, and never letting us off the hook for the moral challenges that the show presents. His presence is often deliciously subversive - he reminds us, quite pointedly, that "Tomorrow Belongs..." to him. After all, he who tells the story writes the past.
|Robert Kemp as the Emcee; the Kit Kat girls|
Of course, their queen is the inimitable Sally Bowles. There would be no show without Sally. She is a difficult character to critique, as she is fairly unique in the musical theatre ouvre. Sorensen's muddy accent work, for example, may have been a character choice - after all, Bowles is intentionally enigmatic about her origins. Still, the wobbly and varied British accents were distracting, especially early on in the show. Likewise, Sally is intended to be a character who cannot necessarily sing well... however, in two of her three main numbers, including the title song, Sorensen is off-tempo enough to raise questions as to whether or not it's intentional. Still, amazingly, even as she fails to find synchronicity with the orchestra, Sorensen's acting is never off even by a beat. She is brash, and hurtful, and doubtful, and lovely, and there is never a moment where she's giving less than 110%.
|The cast of Cabaret|