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Jane Enkin

 
CABARET REVIEW : RMTC John Hirsch Mainstage

by Jane Enkin, January, 2015

CABARET : RMTC John Hirsch Mainstage

 

January 8-31, 2015

 

“What would you do?” is a resonating question in this fine production of Cabaret. The audience “feels implicated in what's going on ... as everything is falling away,” said actor Alex Furber (Clifford Bradshaw) in a talk back event after Tuesday's performance. The moment of recognition for me came when the character Fräulein Schneider felt pressured about choosing quiet survival rather than brave resistance. “What would you do?” she challenged her friends, and I felt challenged too.

 

Cabaret is a brilliant musical, set in the 1930's in pleasure-seeking, desperate Berlin. Its first source is a book of autobiographical fiction, Goodbye to Berlin, by American author, Christopher Isherwood. Over the years, the stories have been made into a play, a film, the 1960's Broadway musical Cabaret, the Hollywood movie based on that musical, and then, in revivals, the most recent reshaping of the musical reflected in RMTC's current production. Audiences familiar with earlier productions, and especially those who only know the film, will notice different songs and some fresh perspectives here. RMTC is presenting the musical to honour the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which brings an added resonance to the ideas explored.

 

Clifford Bradshaw, an American author newly arrived in Berlin, is introduced to the world of the Kit Kat Club – a cabaret that celebrates a wild variety of sexual pleasures, including the homoerotic. He is captivated by the British singer Sally Bowles. We then see Cliff and Sally mostly outside the club, enjoying their friend, the easy-going Ernst Ludwig, and watching a shy romance blossom between the landlady Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.

 

We in the audience, however, are constantly drawn back to the Kit Kat Club by the charismatic Emcee and the Kit Kat Club dancers. Every action in the story is mirrored, parodied and wryly commented on in the club.

 

In director Tracey Flye's chilling production, the atmosphere of the club is not scary, or even extremely sexy. The girls are cute, in the kind of chastely skimpy costumes you'd see in a 30's musical like 42nd Street, and their moves come from the realm of burlesque. The boys are gorgeous, amazingly athletic dancers – a highlight of the show, with special praise going to Stephen Roberts (Kit Kat boy Victor) with his dramatic flips and his turn as the winsome Gorilla -- who sometimes project a vague menace but more often smile appealingly. The sexuality in the club is playful, celebratory and eager.

 

The Kit Kat Club is seductive, though -- it draws us in with laughter, and then leaves us gasping and uncomfortable as the parody turns to what is going on in the Berlin that swirls around the main characters. Slowly, the enthusiasm, fanaticism and violence of the new Nazi party creep into their world.

 

(If you are curious about Berlin and the backstory of Cabaret, I recommend the fascinating analysis by director Scott Miller http://www.newlinetheatre.com/cabaretchapter.html )

 

Mike Nadajewski's nuanced performance as the Emcee is central. He can tease, and even be cruel. But more often, he is empathetic, an everyman who projects in exaggerated form both the audience's feelings and the passion, love and fear of the characters in the more realist portion of the script. Those characters are, for the most part, naive. Clifford and Sally think they can live independently, safe, as foreigners, from the “politics” of Germany. Throughout the play, more and more characters are naively optimistic about the promise the Nazi party holds for them. And a Jewish character remains naively certain that his identity as a German citizen will transcend the prejudice that surrounds him. The Emcee, playful, powerful, and wise, is denied the luxury of naiveté. He knows what's going on, and he keeps reminding us.

 

The performances here are uniformly strong, with terrific support from the onstage band led by Joseph Tritt. Steffi DiDomenicantonio as Sally Bowles is most satisfying during her big solo numbers, including her anxiety-filled, musically powerful deliveries of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret.” Mike Nadajewski sings many solos. Among them, the standout for me was the intense ballad “I Don't Care Much” -- “Hearts grow hard on a windy street Lips grow cold With the rent to meet So if you kiss me If we touch Warning's fair I don't care very much.”

 

Debbie Maslowsky is endlessly fascinating as Fräulein Schneider. The landlady, slow-moving yet rock-solid, allows herself to be warm, but finds it more important to be guarded, self-contained, self-reliant. Maslowsky delicately shows this warmth and her pain and resignation in beautifully sung solos.

 

In the talk back session after Tuesday's performance, the actors were asked about their experience when the audience does not applaud at some of the most powerful, disturbing moments of the play. “The play is almost as harrowing for us as for the audience,” explained Matthew Armet, (Kit Kat boy Karl.) “It's satisfying for us when the audience doesn't applaud.” “We can hear your thoughts,” added Kimberley Rampersad ( Kit Kat girl Lulu.) Director Flye and her team have created a thoughtful and thought-provoking production of this classic musical. My recollection of the starkly visual ending is giving me shivers this morning as I write.

 

 

Cabaret

 

Book by Joe Masteroff

 

Music by John Kander and Lyrics by Fred Ebb

 

Based on the play by John Van Druten and Stories by Christopher Isherwood

 

CABARET stars Steffi DiDomenicantonio as Sally Bowles,

Alex Furber as Clifford Bradshaw,

Mike Nadajewski as the Emcee,

David Coomber as Ernst Ludwig,

Oliver Dawson as Herr Schultz,

Debbie Maslowsky as Fräulein Schneider

and Dayna Tietzen as Fräulein Kost and Kit Kat girl Fritzie.

Rounding out the cast are Mary Antonini, Matthew Armet, Jak Barradell, Cameron Carver, Laurin Padolina, Kimberley Rampersad, Jade Repeta, Jennifer Rider-Shaw, Stephen Roberts, Conor Scully and Brett Andrew Taylor.

 

The creative team behind the production is led by Director, Choreographer and Fight Director Tracey

 
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