THEATER REVIEW: “Cabaret” @ the Ghent Playhouse


Review by Barbara Waldinger

The classic Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret portrays sexual depravity as a metaphor for the decadence of 1931 Germany, where the Nazis were poised on the cusp of power. At least that was director Sam Mendes’ concept when he reimagined the show for the Roundabout Theatre Company in 1998. This conceit has been adopted by Matthew Teicher in his powerful staging of Cabaret at the Ghent Playhouse, where it runs through Sunday, April 1.

The Tony-award winning musical opened in November, 1966 with music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, directed by Harold Prince, and starring Joel Grey as the Emcee of the seedy Kit Kat Klub. The book, by Joe Masteroff, was based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play I Am a Camera, which in turn had been adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s short novel “Goodbye to Berlin.” In 1972 a film version, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli, won multiple awards but differed radically from the stage play. The 1998 Roundabout revival starred Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming in Tony-winning performances.

Cabaret splits its attention between the degeneracy of the Kit Kat Klub and the attempts at respectability by Fraulein Schneider, a decent woman who runs a nearby boarding house. The plot revolves around the romance of two of Fraulein Schneider’s tenants – Clifford Bradshaw, an aspiring writer from Pennsylvania (Alex Benson) and the young English singer Sally Bowles (Nicole Mecca), a featured performer at the Kit Kat Klub. Their rocky relationship contrasts with the deep but star-crossed attachment between the older Fraulein Schneider (Sally McCarthy) and her adoring lodger Herr Schultz (Monk Schane-Lydon).

It is the boundless energy of the Emcee (Brian McBride Land) who drives the action, inviting us to come into his nightclub, where “life is beautiful” (an obvious untruth), shocking us with his outrageously in-your-face sexual behavior. The debauchery is enhanced by the thrust of the stage apron, built out to provide a platform where the various sexual positions and grinding bodies of the Emcee and his six-member female chorus can land in the audience’s lap (sometimes quite literally). Whereas in the original production, Joel Gray’s Emcee was described as “a ventriloquist’s dummy come to life,” wearing formal attire, white makeup, colorful lips and red cheeks in garish surroundings, Lamb (following Alan Cumming) struts and dances in black leather and a basically bare chest in a Kit Kat Klub that is raunchy, ugly and masochistic.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage

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