Review: 'Cabaret' by Castle Craig Players

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

"In here life is beautiful..."

Meriden, CT - Castle Craig Players are taking packed audiences back to 1930’s Berlin in a stirring production of ‘Cabaret’ through August 7, 2016. The musical was directed keenly by Ian Galligan, with excellent musical direction by Andrew Gadwah and unique choreography by Tessa Grunwald. ‘Cabaret’ features a book by Joe Masteroff that was based on a play called ‘I Am A Camera’ by John Van Druten and ‘Goodbye To Berlin’ by Christopher Isherwood. The iconic music was written by John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebb, the team that wrote the Tony Award-winning 'Chicago.'

I realized as I became engrossed in the story of Cliff and Sally Bowles that I have never watched the movie version of ‘Cabaret’ to the end. I learned a lot from the page in the program that featured (more than) “a few words from the director.” Mr. Galligan notes that he finds it ironic that Castle Craig is currently producing the classic American musical that he describes as a “cautionary tale... given the volatile political climate we are living in.” He calls this piece “truly moving, yet also unexpectedly disturbing” and appreciates the way “it leads you down a path that is alluring, and then you find yourself in an unexpected place.” 

The show has also evolved over time more so than most musicals, both musically and “reflective of the cultural context of its era.” Only in the most recent incarnations can the character of Cliff be truly gay. In addition, the structure of the play was streamlined for a smaller space (which is a good fit for the Castle Craig space) and has become darker to capture the sordid and decayed state of this period of German history without sugar-coating it, making for a powerful piece indeed. Not for the easily shocked, not for children, but worth the attention to be a camera, passively recording and deciding: “What would you do?”

‘Cabaret’ is presented in the converted storefront space with cabaret seating; patrons were invited to bring snack and beverages to enjoy before and during the performance. Audience members seated at the round tables were probably better able to view the stage than I was from my seat at a rectangular table perpendicular to the stage. I did get to see the fantastic opening number “Willkommen” before the final three patrons seated at my table arrived after the show had begun. 

The Kit Kat Club performers mingled on the stage for a while before the first line was spoken and it was an effective beginning. The music director played piano onstage, with cast members Arthur Canova and Oliver Kochol across the small stage on drums. Cast members Nick Ciasullo, a music teacher by day, masterfully played sax and clarinet for various numbers and the multi-talented Jennifer Del Sole played sax, clarinet, flute and accordion. The Kit Kat Band truly was beautiful. The set, constructed by Bill Westermeyer, was simple and could be rearranged quickly. Costumes were skimpy but not indecent and included many silky robes.

There was not a weak link in the ‘Cabaret’ cast; they were led so well by Mr. Galligan to bring each character to life. Jason Perry commanded the stage as the leering Emcee of the Kit Kat Club who popped up in many scenes for many reasons. Mr. Perry, a Connecticut native, made his CCP debut in what he deems a dream role and he was spectacular in it. Recent CT transplant Jessica Rohe embodied the tragic Sally Bowles and sang beautifully. Ian Lynch-Passarelli gave life to the pivotal role of Cliff Bradshaw.
The ubiquitous Wesley Tack nailed another character as Ernst Ludwig and Ms. Del Sole was sassy in the featured role of Fraulein Kost, in addition to dancing as one of the Kit Kat Girls. Deane Poirier was the person in the gorilla suit and Mr. Canova played Max. The Kit Kat Girls included Ms. Del Sole, Lisa DeAngelis, Chelsea Dacey, WCSU student Alex Colavecchio, Emma Czaplinski (in her eighth CCP show!,) and dance captain Allison Koppel. The Kit Kat Boys included CCSU student Jorge Melendez, UCONN senior Oliver Kochol, Nick Ciasullo and CCSU student Arthur Canova.

Special mention must be made of the two mature actors involved in the subplot of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, both of whom made their CCP debut. Betty McCready gave such a strong performance as the rooming house owner that the audience applauded as she exited one important scene. Caroll Spinney look-alike David E. Schancupp was just as convincing as the Jewish shop owner that falls in love with her. Kudos to both of them on their wonderful performances.

Mr. Galligan will be reprising his role of the disgruntled Macy’s elf in the hilarious one-man show ‘The Santaland Diaries’ that will return to CCP by popular demand in December and I hope to catch it this year. Also on tap for the upcoming season are ‘Blithe Spirit’ in October, ‘The Curse of the Hopeless Diamond’ in February, ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ in May and Monty Python’s Spamalot’ in late July through August, 2017.

Photos by Wendy Stephan Manciagli