It seems quite appropriate to enter the Spotlighters Theatre through a secluded alleyway, descending into the decadent world of 1930 Berlin and the Kit Kat Club. Audiences are greeted by the Kit Kat Girls and Boys who will show you a good time before being sternly corralled by Max the Bartender so that the show may begin. This reviewer had a lovely time with two of the Kit Kat Club Boys, one of whom noticed that I arrived alone and declared that I needed a companion. He then asked me my preference and I cheekily replied, "Surprise me." Alas, I only had a few brief moments with my new companion before Max spoiled the fun and forced me to pay attention to the actual performance.
The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre is in its 49th season of quality community theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. The stage itself has major limitations as there are four beams literally holding up the roof over the in-the-round stage. This unfortunately requires the audience to crane their necks to see all of the action at times, but when the performance is good it is worth the inconveniences of the space.
Cabaret, book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander, opened in 1966. The role of the Emcee led Joel Grey to both a Tony Award and an Academy Award. It is a tale, told through the eyes of the American drifting writer, Cliff Bradshaw, of the decadence of the end of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazi Party. He becomes involved in the lives of a group of Germans from his first accquaintance the smuggler Ernst Ludwig to his never married landlady, Fraulein Schneider, her Jewish suitor, Herr Schultz, and Fraulein Schneider's adversarial tenant, Fraulein Kost. But, most importantly he is deeply affected by his love affair with the beautiful, bohemian featured performer of the Kit Kat Club, the English singer, Sally Bowles.
Overall, the production is very well cast. Suzanne Young and Jim Hart as the doomed autumnal couple, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz are well matched and bring the pathos to their situation in the poignant "Married" as well as appropriate humor to their budding romance in the delightful "It Couldn't Please Me More (The Pineapple Song)." Kerry Brady is sleazy, but a genuine threatening presence as Fraulein Kost. Todd Krickler is excellent as Cliff's first friend in Berlin, Ernst Ludwig, who, as the show progresses becomes more than what he appears to be and thus, when his true motivations are expressed it isa shocking revelation to the audience about a genuinely likable character.
There are two members of the ensemble who must be singled out. Jeffrey Coleman has a powerful voice and is perfectly cast as the soloist for a song that never falls to bring chills, the Nazi anthem, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me." Bridget Mullins is a beautiful dancer who manages to bring grace to her featured solo in "If You Could See Her" - in a gorilla costume.
Lynne McCormick and Aaron Dalton are pleasant leading role performers. Unfortunately, until the very end of the show, they don't show any of the true darker natures of the characters of Cliff and Sally. It is heavily implied that Cliff is bisexual in the script, yet, unlike the choreographer, Melissa McGinley, who choses to have several same sex partnerships in the club numbers, the director, Erin Riley, has decided to play it safe with Cliff only letting the text speak for the layers that lie beneath Cliff's leading man persona. Is this the reason that he clings to the dream of a normal regular life with Sally, despite Sally's own self destructive behavior?
Ms. McCormick has a lovely voice and stage presence, but doesn't truly let her hair down, so to speak as Sally until the very dramatic scenes which surround the title number and the finale. It was then that both Ms. McCormick and Mr. Dalton showed promise in the dilemmas facing their characters.
The finale, a stream of consciousness as Cliff begins to finally write his long blocked novel, is very difficult to pull off. Erin Riley does a credible job with this difficult scene bringing forth the sad pathos at the end of the show. This reviewer has seen many different takes on this scene from cutting it completely (American University) to marching the entire Kit Kat Club performers to death camps (Arena Stage). It is nice to see a director willing to simply work within the text and pull off the difficult scene.
The only aspect of the production that brings its energy level down are the scene changes. They are mostly done in blackout and they interrupt the mood of the piece. Near the end of the show, a scene change happens in almost a dream state in full view of the audience. If the rest of the scene changes had happened in front of the audience and in character the action would not be slowed down.
Musical director Michael Tan leads an small trio to accompany the performers and blends the music so that it doesn't compete with the actors in the small space.
Many choreographers of Cabaret fall into the Bob Fosse trap. His award winning choreography for the 1972 film version has placed a large shadow on anyone staging this show. Melissa McGinley has created her own vision of 1930's Berlin using some late 20's dances as well as a variety of other styles that suit the music or the mood to create her own stamp on the production. Well done.
Wait, you say, what about the pivotal role of the Emcee? This is another role that has had iconic performances from Joel Grey which is preserved on film to Alan Cummings in the Studio 54 revival in the 90's to even Brad Oliver at Arena Stage. All of these men put their individual stamp on this amazing character. To that roster must go the truly astounding Tim Elliott. In the program it mentions that Mr. Elliott is returning to the stage from a four year absence. It has been worth waiting for him. He is your host, your entertainer, your puppet master. It is a blazing performance that is worth rushing to see.
Cabaret will be performed at the Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre through October 10, 2010. For more information visit www.spotlighters.org.