Randy Harrison & the company of Roundabout Theatre’s national tour of Cabaret. Photo © Broadway.com
Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Book by Joe Masteroff
Directed by BT McNicholl
Review by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved
This week brings Broadway in Louisville’s Cabaret to town and it is by far this season’s best offering. It’s been eighteen years since Roundabout Theatre in New York staged London’s Donmar Warehouse revisioning of “Cabaret” and this 2013 remount still packs a punch.
Whether you’re familiar with the original stage version or subsequent film or, indeed, with this version, or you’re a first-timer, this production hits all the right notes: an excellent book-lyrics-music combination; an ensemble which is at once cohesive and allows for sharp individuation; and a creative team (director BT McNicholl, choreographer Cynthia Onrubia, and music supervisor Patrick Vaccariello) who, as the program states, are ‘inspired by’ the Donmar 1993 original, and who also bring their own stamp and energy to the production. The performers are quadruple-threat too – they sing, dance, act, and play the instruments of the Kit Kat Club.
Following in the footsteps of both Joel Gray and Alan Cumming is a tall order. And early on there are times that the MC’s moves feel somewhat inherited. But once Randy Harrison gauged the audience, as a good MC should, the evening was in safe – and deliciously risky – hands. Harrison’s MC is outrageous and charming, ebullient with a touch of vulnerability and a hint of seriousness that perfectly sets up “If You Could See Her,” and the finale.
Andrea Goss’ gamin Sally effortlessly fills the Whitney vocally and with her whimsy and attitude. Goss handles the eponymously named “Cabaret” with aplomb and rawness. Clifford Bradshaw (Lee Aaron Rosen) has only a couple of opportunities for song, and it is a testament to the overall quality of this production, that Rosen has more than a pleasant singing voice, an attribute that is frequently a corner cut in many productions. The late-blossoming romance between Fraülein Schneider (Shannon Cochran) and Herr Schultz (Mark Nelson) is delicately handled with deprecating humor and a sense of life experience brought to this burgeoning relationship. Nelson is allowed his moment of misplaced hope and dignity, while Ewing brings a painful sense of reality to the ending of the engagement.
The supporting characters, into which members of the ensemble step, are well drawn, collectively constructing the seedy, rakish Berlin of the 1920’s; sketching in the coping mechanisms of those living on the edges of a society that is becoming more proscriptive.
The perennial issue in the Whitney of the balance between music and voices was, on Tuesday evening, unfortunately matched with this production’s rattle-paced tempo, especially in Act One, which made it difficult to enjoy all of the lyrics (especially in “Don’t Tell Mama”) and much of the dialogue that was underscored. While hoping that the balance will be resolved technically, the one choice that mars this otherwise high-caliber production is the uniformly brisk tempo of the majority of the musical numbers in Act One. Even Fraülein Schneider’s “So What,” and her duet with Herr Schultz, “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” felt somewhat rushed. Act Two is allowed to breathe more, which allows for the emotional impact of the still-devastating reveal at the end.
A production like the Roundabout’s 50th anniversary tour of “Cabaret” reminds us of just how powerful and passionate the American Musical can, even should, be. Here’s hoping that Louisville is treated to more productions of this caliber.
March 8 – 13, 2016
PNC Broadway In Louisville
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Kathi E.B. Ellis is a member of the Lincoln Center and Chicago Directors’ Labs and an associate member of the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. She has attended the LaMama Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy, and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding Southern Artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for the South Florida Theatre Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and is part of ShoeString Productions an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for JCPS’ textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.