If your only familiarity with Kander & Ebb’s musical, “Cabaret,” is the 1972 movie with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, you may find the stage show, now at Music Circus, confusing. While, of course, it pre-dates the movie, the movie lightened it up a bit, added some songs, deleted some songs, added some characters and subplots, and the whole thing didn’t seem as dark as the original stage show.
This is not to take away from the appeal of the stage show which, in its current version, is quite glitzy, energetic and entertaining, but also shocking and disturbing.
The Emcee (Robin de Jesus, in his Music Circus debut) is not only in charge of the seedy Kit Kat Klub but also seems to be overseeing most of the activity that goes on in the private lives of the rest of the cast. De Jesus had the demonic glee in the situations he was addressing, but lacked the “brass” and “hardness” of other Emcees.
A part of this may have been due to either poor makeup or poor lighting because we are accustomed to the bizarre make-up of the character and it was not until he appeared in a bluish light that I realized he was wearing any clownish make-up at all.
The plot is supposed to tell the story of Sally Bowles (Kaleigh Cronin), a singer trying to make a name for herself, and her relationship with Clifford Bradshaw (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka) and yes, that does take up a lot of the story.
But I felt that the real story was of Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray), who runs the boarding house where they all meet. Schneider has had a hard life and is resigned to making the best of things (“So What”). She has never married but has a warm, comfortable friendship with Herr Schultz (Ron Wisniski), who brings her fresh fruit for a treat. They have some lovely moments together, particularly the beautiful duet “Married.”
Murray, a Tony Award nominee, is simply outstanding. It is the poignancy of her story to which we are drawn, more than to the less fully developed Sally or Cliff, whose scenes seem to lack the kind of “finish” that we see in the movie.
Wisniski is a regular at Music Circus and it is clear why — he can play any role and has made a local career in excelling in “second banana” roles. You can’t help falling in love with this Herr Schultz, who mixes dignity with deep sorrow, and feel his pain when the growing Nazi movement affects both his engagement to Fraulein Schneider and his thriving business as well.
Cronin is an excellent singer, perhaps too good for the seedy Kit Kat Klub, where she is supposed to be a not-very-good chanteuse. And, unlike Minnelli, she really has only one outstanding number, the title song, which she nails wonderfully, packing it with all the emotion one would expect.
While Herdlicka, as Cliff, has a couple of duets, his real strength is in his dramatic scenes, which he handles beautifully. We never really get a full background on him, and we never really see exactly what his relationship with Sally is. Is he gay? Is he straight? Is he bisexual? Are they lovers? Is he sexual at all? The ambiguity leads to a lack of chemistry between the two.
In more minor roles, Heather Lee is Fraulein Kost, one of Schneider’s boarders who has a lot of gentlemen callers, Alexa De Barr and Sarah Marie Jenkins are the “two ladies” who make up a threesome in the funny trio “Two Ladies” with the Emcee, and Matthew J. Kilgore manages to get remarkable emotions out of a gorilla costume in “If You Could See Her.”
Though this show is set in 1931 and is designed to show the start of the Nazi rise to power, you would not know there were Nazis outside the Klub until the end of Act 1, when it hits you with such a jolt that, having just come from watching the Democratic convention proceedings, comparisons are unavoidable.
It was, of course, impossible for Music Circus to have had any clue whatsoever about the 2016 political climate when it signed the contract for this production more than a year ago, but seeing it sandwiched between the Republican and Democratic conventions was very emotional.
At one point Sally says, “It’s only politics. It doesn’t affect us.”
With hindsight may we all realize how very, very wrong that comment is and be encouraged to get involved in the current election activities, realizing that this particular election may be one of the most important in our lives.
But in the meantime, by all means go and see this excellent production at Music Circus first!