Review: The Lipstick Project's "Cabaret" at the Darien Arts Center

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History was made on April 27th, 2018 in Darien, CT as twenty-two women took the stage for the first-ever performance of Kander & Ebb's Cabaret, with an all-female cast. Under the direction of Carin Zakes and choreography by Caitlin Roberts, this was a strong production with every bit the risque and reflection you'd want out of this material. 

The show centers in a Berlin nightclub. As the 1920’s draw to a close, a garish Master of Ceremonies(Julie Thaxter-Gourlay) welcomes the audience and assures them they will forget all their troubles. With the Emcee’s bawdy songs as wry commentary, Cabaret explores the dark, heady, and tumultuous life of Berlin’s natives and expatriates as Germany slowly yields to the emerging Third Reich. Cliff(Abigail Henderson), a young American writer newly arrived in Berlin, is immediately taken by English singer Sally Bowles(Rachel Schulte). Meanwhile, Fräulein Schneider(Betty McCready), proprietor of Cliff and Sally’s boarding house, tentatively begins a romance with Herr Schultz(Marilyn Olsen), a mild-mannered fruit seller who happens to be Jewish.

While the cast is all-female, the women playing the male roles, especially Henderson and Olsen, skillfully take on male posture and mannerisms that make the audience forget they're women. It not only proves the point that the Lipstick Project is making but also making a strong statement about gender-fluidity in these roles that other local theatres should think about following suit. 

I'll never believe that Cliff is given the depth and sentiment he should in this piece, but Abigail Henderson certainly gives it her all. Henderson gives Cliff the right amount of naivety in the beginning and dissolution in the end. Rachel Schulte turns in a career performance as Sally Bowles. Schulte masterfully navigates through Bowles' transition from free-spirit to a tragic figure, all along providing strong vocal performances of her iconic numbers. As the emcee, Julie Thaxter-Gourlay gives the character the right amount of charisma and darkness without going over the top. Outfitted with creative and colorful costuming by Amy Raskopf, Thaxter-Gourlay's improv with the audience was especially strong.

 Photo: Diane Farrell/ Farrell Marketing and Media

Photo: Diane Farrell/Farrell Marketing and Media

The relationship between Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz is equally adorable to watch unfold and heartbreaking for reasons revealed later on. McCready and Olsen have great chemistry between them, which helps when things are light and effective when they're not. Also turning in strong performances are Shelley Lepetich as Ernst and Megan Kellogg who was somewhat terrifying as Fräulein Kost, a satisfying reaction I had not had to that character before. 

The production also boasts a strong ensemble of Kit Kat Klub performers, all of whom set the tone nicely through both the sleek choreography by Caitlin Roberts especially in numbers such as "The Money Song" and "Two Ladies". Thanks to Dwayne Condon and his musicians, the score becomes a central character throughout the piece. 

Zakes keeps the pace up and emphasizes both the fun and poignant moments well. Zakes, along with Ellie Mallardi, designed a nice thrust setting for the club scenes which would have added an interestingly immersive experience if it was used more in scenes that took place elsewhere. 

While what was occurring on stage was strong, the technical aspects of the show proved to be more of a hurdle than anything else. Projections by Mat Young were nice touches in some areas but unnecessary in others. There were some glitches, which can be attributed to opening night gaffs, such as mics not being switched on/off at the right time, and a computer desktop image projected on the rear screen but an uncomfortably long time before it was noticed. 

But opening night technical issues aside, this is a forceful production of a classic that had me asking new questions about the characters and material than I had before. I definitely recommend taking it in as well. 

Just dress lightly as it can get hot in the Weatherstone Studio....which might be a good thing. 

Tickets for CARARET are $25 - $30 and are available online at www.darienarts.org. Performances take place Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM Friday April 27 through Sunday, May 12, 2018.

For more information, please visit www.darienarts.org and www.lipstickprojectct.org.

The Lipstick Project was founded in Stamford, CT in 2014 with the mission of promoting and creating artistic opportunities for women. Starting out with only a backyard to rehearse in and one night to perform, today the troupe can be seen in various theatrical spaces putting on multiple productions each year with all-female casts. These shows range from Shakespeare, with which the group got its start, to original music revues; from more contemporary plays to the upcoming musical. They also strive to make a positive impact in the community, both through the content of their work and through raising funds with each show for a charity, non-profit, or person in need. As they continue to grow, they hope to reach an even wider net of women+ in the community, giving them a safe and exciting space in which to perform and make art. The Lipstick Project is where women+ finally get to step into the spotlight.

Founded in 1975, the Darien Arts Center (DAC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing visual and performing arts programs and events for the community. The DAC offers educational programs in Dance, Visual Arts, Music & Theatre, as well as special events and live community theatre produced by DAC Stage. Private donations, grants, tuition fees & ticket sales fund the DAC, which is located at 2 Renshaw Road, behind the Town Hall. For further information, call (203) 655-8683 or visit darienarts.org.