Let freedom swing
It is hard to resist being drawn into the intoxicating German underworld of the 1930s in TMCC’s latest production of one of the greatest musicals of all time, Cabaret. The show practically begins from the moment the audience walks into the lobby, where cabaret entertainers are milling about, laughing, talking with audience members and passing out programs, while another sings to piano accompaniment, and a gypsy tells fortunes.
With the show’s entertaining opener, “Wilkommen,” the audience is greeted by the androgynous Emcee (Owen Bryant) and the scantily clad entertainers of the seedy Kit Kat Club, who are singing, dancing, and partying as if the world is about to end. All are welcome at the Kit Kat Club, and the only entry requirement seems to be a desire to engage in lascivious fun with reckless abandon.
Clifford Bradshaw (Bob Barsanti), an American writer in search of a subject for a novel, has just arrived in Berlin. On the train, he meets Ernst Ludwig (Ryan Kelly) of dubious profession, who directs him both to Fraulein Schneider’s (Jane Addington) boarding house and the Kit Kat Club. At the nightclub three hours later, Cliff meets the fascinating Kit Kat singer, Sally Bowles (Echo Olsen), whose fortunes soon become entangled with his own. For the remainder of the show, the stories of Cliff, Sally and the characters of the boarding house are interspersed with acts from the club.
Under the direction of Paul Aberasturi, this production of Cabaret offers many well-staged, entertaining musical numbers, each one with new surprises. The jubilant songs and constant partying also accompany a world of drugs, drinking and longing for love. The open embrace of all kinds and preferences seems part of a desperate attempt to stave off the encroaching power of a strict Nazi regime that has no tolerance for difference. The first act creates a provocative, fun and free world—a world that starts to break down when the Nazi armbands come out. There is a palpable change of tone in the second act, and the cast does a capable job of managing this transition.
In the role of the Emcee, Owen Brant’s performance ranges from mischievous to mesmerizing. Not only does he introduce the acts at the Kit Kat Club, but he also oversees the whole show, watching the scenes from a level above, all-knowing and smiling. As Sally Bowles, Echo Olsen’s impassioned song delivery is often riveting. Olsen ably captures the enigmatic Sally, whose determination to live an exciting life is at the show’s center.
But while the leads are strong, it is the ensemble that makes this really enjoyable entertainment. The cast of 39 are collectively captivating. Their cabaret songs and dances are accompanied by a costumed band, which sits at the back of the stage.
With music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb, the duo who created Chicago, Cabaret‘s songs are irresistible. The choreography is bold and flashy, filling the whole stage and creating a feast for the eyes. The striking black and white costumes come to life under the colorful, flashy lights of the nightclub.
At times, the sound is difficult to hear and some words were dropped, due to German accents and some acoustical imbalances. Nonetheless, on the night I attended, the show received a well-deserved standing ovation.