Review: Cabaret at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse
- OnStage Massachusetts Critic
Meredith NH - Cabaret features music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff. It is based on the play I am a Camera by John Van Druten and Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories. It opened on Broadway in 1966, and many may recall seeing the 1972 film version with Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray that was directed by the great Bob Fosse. This production, however, is quite different from the film according to director Clayton Phillips who was inspired by the 1998 revival production. It still tells the story of Sally Bowles, Clifford Bradshaw, The Kit Kat Klub, and the various people of Berlin in 1931, but with a fresh perspective that invites the audience to not just enjoy the performance, but really listen and think about the story being told.
Sally Bowles is a nightclub singer who meets Clifford Bradshaw, an American writer from Pennsylvania, at The Kit Kat Klub on New Year’s Eve. Romance sparks between them and it’s not long until they are planning a future together. Another romance between the owner of the boarding house where Cliff and Sally live, Frӓulein Schneider, and another tenant Herr Schultz also begins. From beginning to end the Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) guides the audience along and gives them insight to stories unfolding. While there is plenty of dancing, singing and merriment in this musical, the historically based story, at its core, is much less joyous and reminds us of the tragic past.
The musical takes place in The Kit Kat Klub that features two iron sets of stairs on either side of the thrust stage that lead to the upper level where the band is seated and a lit Cabaret sign is hung. Upstage, under the upper platform, there are three doors across a tracked wall. The set design by Melissa Shakun along with lighting design by Graham Edmondson, sound design by Thom Beaulieu and costume design by Daneé Rose Grillo all blended seamlessly together to create the world of the show. The creative team, that also included director Clayton Phillips, music director Judy Hayward, and choreographer Bryan Knowlton, did a fantastic job of bringing this entertaining and reflective show to life.
A major highlight of this production was the choreography by Bryan Knowlton. It was fantastically danced by the cast; especially the Emcee (Michael Luongo) and Kit Kat girls and boys including: Rebecca Tucker, Kelsey Andrae, Monica Rodrigues, Irene Schultz, Kristin Guerin, Leigh Martha Klinger, John-Michael Breen, Sean Burns, Wayne Shuker, and Nicholas Berke. From the cast’s behavior in the pre-show stretching, the audience could tell this show was going to be very risqué. The movement was stylistically Jazz, with flourishes of Fosse. It was sharp, provocative and very well executed. “Willkommen” as performed by the Emcee and Kit Kat boys and girls was characteristically performed: in that each person danced as their character and not necessarily as a dancer in a musical. They each had their own personality in their movement and showed various emotions as if it was just another night at the club. Some were happy to be there making money, while others didn’t want to be there or were tired. It made the performance more interesting to watch. The classic “Money” song, later in act one, was superbly done. In the show it occurs right after Cliff has agreed to make a trip to Paris for Ernst for which he will be well paid. I loved that the briefcase he was to use for this trip was the focus of the Emcee and dancers, who were dressed in skirts, bows and bowties made of money. It tied the storyline and this number together in a way I’ve never seen done before.
Michael Luongo delivered an outstanding performance as the Master of Ceremonies (Emcee). He was engaging, humorous and charismatic. He made solid and consistent character choices and sang strongly throughout. His rendition of “I Don’t Care Much” was heartfelt and beautifully done. He is easily one of the best Emcee’s I have seen. Sally Bowles was incredibly played by Mallory Newbrough. Her English accent was steady, she made great character choices, and had wonderful facial expressions. Her vocals were beautiful both in her rich lower range and light higher range. When she belted her heart out in “Cabaret” in act two the audience erupted in applause. It was emotionally raw as if she was saving some of her power for that number and it certainly paid off. Clifford Bradshaw was nicely played by Phil Sloves. His young face suited his character well, as Cliff was at times naïve. Cliff’s journey from a young man seeing the world, to a grown man with morals and firm beliefs was clear in Sloves’ portrayal. His chemistry with Newbrough was sweet and believable. Frӓulein Schneider, as played by Sebastian Ryder was soft and sweet, but also strong. She was not one to let her emotions show, especially in front of Herr Schultz, played by Fred Frabotta. The pair was lovingly affectionate towards each other. They played the relationship tenderly and playfully; particularly in “It Couldn’t Please Me More”. Playhouse favorite Rebecca Tucker, who also played Kit Kat girl Fritzie, portrayed the fierce and sometimes spiteful Frӓulein Kost, a tenant in Frӓulein Schneider’s home. She beautifully sang a section of “Married” in German that was clear and nicely accented. It made watching Schneider and Schultz dance together even more sweet. Ernst Ludwig, as played by Jason Plourde, was kind and seemingly a good friend to Clifford. That is until his political associations are made apparent and he tried to force his beliefs on others at the end of act one. Plourde’s acting was strong throughout. He even shared his commanding voice in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”.
The emotional mood and overall tone of the show changes quickly at the end of act one and the cast made this change clear as they moved through the darker act two. Tensions were heightened, emotions were heavier and lines were sharper. Everyone was more on edge as the realization of the Nazi’s power and reach sunk in and it became apparent that even at the Kit Kat Klub they were in danger. The final moments of the show were simplistic, yet powerful, leaving the audience in awe as they applauded this talented cast. ©
Due to the explicit and mature content of this musical, it is a show best appreciated by adults. So find yourself a babysitter, gather your friends and go see this exciting, emotional, and powerful production. Cabaret plays at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse until September 3rd. For additional information and tickets to Cabaret visit www.winnipesaukeeplayhouse.org.
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