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

Review: 'Hello, Dolly!' at Castle Craig Players

Nancy Sasso Janis

The Castle Craig Players of Meriden are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the (ten) Tony Award winning Best Musical,   HELLO, DOLLY!   with an excellent production that opens on August 7 at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden, CT. Ian Galligan directs the musical that is based on ‘The Matchmaker’ by Thornton Wilder. Andrew Gadwah serves as musical director and plays all the wonderful music by Jerry Herman on the piano. 

 Mr. Galligan has many directing credits, as well as some memorable on-stage credits (I will never forget the first time I saw him as Bud Frump in ‘How to Succeed’ at Seven Angels.) He has proven himself to be a talented director/choreographer and it shows in this always entertaining “good old-fashioned Broadway musical.” In his bio, he sends a huge thank you to this “amazing” cast and rightly so, because he has assembled a bevy of talented singer/dancers to portray the various roles. Having Mr. Gadwah behind the theater’s piano once again is frothy icing on the cake.

Susan Smith Thom (center) stars as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Castle Craig Players' production of 'Hello, Dolly!' Photo by Ian Galligan

Susan Smith Thom (center) stars as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Castle Craig Players' production of 'Hello, Dolly!' Photo by Ian Galligan

 Susan Smith Thom is bold and brassy as the manipulative Dolly Gallagher Levi. Her acting credits include Mama Rose in ‘Gypsy’ and she certainly has the powerful voice for both roles. Her comic timing was spot on and as she made the judge wait for her to speak while continuing to eat her turkey dinner, she almost broke up her fellow cast members. The preview audience loved it.

 Kevin Reid does well as the blustery Horace Vandergelder in his Castle Craig debut, although he started his acting career at the age of 15.  Jim Kane also makes his debut at this theater in the role of Cornelius Hackl and gives a fine performance as the ernest clerk. Oliver Kochol, a rising junior at UCONN, is so good as young Barnaby Tucker that he stands out in all his scenes. A fine dancer with excellent comic timing, he also made his frequent pratt falls look easy. 

 The beautiful voice of Allison Mohler shines in her portrayal of the widowed milliner Irene Molloy. She glows in her long dresses and lovely headgear and also makes her CCP debut. Jennifer Del Sole made her debut on this stage many years ago and will begin her career as a middle school special education teacher in the fall. She plays the luminous Minnie Fay that works with Mrs. Molloy in the hat shop.

 Emma Czaplinski returns to this stage to wail constantly as Horace’s niece Ermengarde and college junior Zach Fontanez is her beloved Ambrose Kemper. Diane Warner-Canova, a long time CCP volunteer, plays Ernestina broadly and is slyly funny. I was so glad to see that the terrific Wesley Tack, who has appeared in a slew of CCP productions, has a wonderful part in this show as Rudolph the head waiter of the Harnonia Gardens Restaurant  .   Of course he made the most of it and his other ensemble roles; no one looks better in a straw hat.

 Deane Poirier is the fun Mrs. Rose and Michael Dolan plays the Judge, while Arthur Canova was a standout as the court clerk and even more so as the chef at the restaurant. The talented dancer/singers in the ensemble include Matt Czaplinski, Kendra Kochol, Jasmine McLeish, Jorge Melendez, Hilary Rolstone and one last minute substitute member.  

 My teen and I laughed at Dolly’s antics as the nicely staged scenes unfolded, and we enjoyed the tight choreography in the opening number “Call on Dolly,” “Motherhood,” and of course “The Waiter’s Gallop” when the employees dance, sing and ride (!) to welcome Dolly “back where you belong.” The guys of the cast made their moment shine in “It Takes a Woman.” Mr. Galligan did an admirable job of making the grandness of this show fit upon this black box stage. 

 Costumes by the director and several others were period perfect and flattering to all. I especially loved the final hat for Dolly. Wigs by Joel Silvestro were just as good. Simone McMahon helped Mr. Galligan with the lovely choreography that didn’t overwhelm this stage that was recently renovated and expanded but is still in an intimate theater. 

 I recommend this production that will open on Aug. 7 and run through Aug. 16. Seating is limited and opening night is already sold out, so call ahead for tickets. 

HELLO, DOLLY!   will be presented for six performances only – August 7-16 (Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 2:00pm) at The Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse, 59 West Main Street, Meriden, CT. Tickets are $20.  Tickets may be purchased online at  www.CastleCraig.org   or over the phone by calling toll-free 1-800-838-3006.