Jack Wallen in Cabaret. Photo: Pandora Productions
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Based on the play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten
Based on stories by Christopher Isherwood
Directed by Michael Drury
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
“In here, life is beautiful…” a phrase repeated by the Emcee of the Kit-Kat Club in Berlin. This emcee invites his audience to forget and ignore their troubles and hardship and indulge in a world full of dancing girls, flirtations, and decadence. Gritty, powerful and raw, Pandora Productions current production of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret is blistering and beautiful.
Cabaret exists in two worlds. A reality where nationalism gains momentum with boot-stomping ferociousness, the other contained in the Kit-Kat Club, a seedy nightclub where gritty sensuality deters from the impending doom. Constantly teetering between these two worlds in the dwindling days of pre-national Socialism where denizens of the city are “tawdry and terrible,” Jack Wallen provides a remarkable performance as the Emcee. This master of ceremonies is a mood-setting, shape-shifting clown in black lipstick. Hoisting the two worlds together, Wallen brings out emotional commentary as hate rises to power in Berlin; tensions build with the presence of the Gestapo, and on-going threats of terror. His “Wilkommen” is punchy and flamboyant while providing dark contrast to “I Don’t Care Much.” Wallen connects a reality that is growing nastier by the moment to an ugly world that is falling by the wayside.
Outside of the Kit-Kat Club, an American man named Cliff is exploring the crumbling Berlin. As Cliff, Jordan Price is an outsider in a strange land, gazing into a void of decadence as chaos slowly rises to the surface. Upon arriving to Berlin, Price’s hopeful naiveté shifts to cynicism as relationships form and a destructive government arise. Cliff is swept up by the Berlin decadence as soon as he meets Sally Bowles. Played with magnitude by Lauren McCombs, this Sally is a “fascinating and mysterious” party girl who lives fast and free and will never slow down. McCombs’ early numbers “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Mein Herr” emphasizes the carefree life with tongue-in-cheek choreography. Her rendition of “Maybe This Time” soars but it is the title song where McCombs truly succeeds. A song so often sung with gusto and charisma, in this production, this musical number ignites with passion amidst the destruction.
Jim Hesselman and Georgette Kleier provide a simple love affair tarnished by looming dangers as Heir Schulz and Frau Schneider. Sweetly in love, Hesselman and Kleier’s duets with “The Pineapple Song” and “Married” bring lighthearted contrast to Sally’s jazz standards in the Kit-Kat Club. When the love affair begins to fade at the hands of cruelty, Kleier delivers a sorrowful “What Would You Do?” emphasized by a conflicted and tragic “What Choice Have I?” speech. Opposing forces and sympathy for the rising National socialists are presented in the form of Frauline Kost, played by Amanda Kyle Lahti, and Patrick Vaughn as Ernst. These unpleasant and difficult characters are presented with humanity and respect by Lahti and Vaughn. Their voices blend beautifully during the act one finale, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” and provide a tone creeping darkness for the second act.
The most intriguing aspect of Cabaret is that the action is yanked in and out of the Kit-Kat Club at a moment’s notice. Scantily clad, make-up-smeared Kit-Kat boys and girls greet you at the door with flirtation and remain present throughout the show. At first, this ensemble is cheeky fun with each Fosse-inspired step. With a young, intimidating Nazi (played with stoic fierceness by Remy Sisk) monitoring the audience during intermission, accompanied by searchlights during the Entr’acte, the audience is forced to identify with the characters, and that reality is too hard to ignore.
September 14-29, 2018
At Henry Clay Theater
601 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!