The best thing about director/choreographer Troy Wageman’s striking production of “Cabaret” is that he manages to make this very familiar show feel new and original again. The 1966 Kander and Ebb musical about a young writer’s retreat into the dangerous, decadent, dying world of Weimar Republic Germany, his relationship with the doomed and ever hopeful Sally Bowles, and the denizens of the iconic, seedy Kit Kat Klub has been a great showpiece for the best of Broadway talent. From Joel Grey to Alan Cumming, from Jill Haworth through Liza Minelli to Natasha Richardson this show has provided great roles that led to great performances. In countless revivals and community theater productions the powerful story, knockout score and Bob Fosse’s quintessential choreography have kept the show among the most popular in musical theater history. The problem is that most of the time audiences come out of the theater feeling that they’ve seen a re-creation of a great production. This time, I really felt like I was seeing a new show.
A good part of that can be attributed to the distinctive performance of Robbie Turner as the Emcee. His sexually ambiguous, salacious master of ceremonies without a name had not a trace of Joel Grey, not a trace of anyone I’ve ever seen do this role before. He sang very well, but most of all he convinced us that the Klub was his world, and that what we learn about it, and about everyone in it, is all that we’ll ever learn about him. It is, perhaps, all there is to him. His degradation through course of the action was pitiful and moving, exactly as it is supposed to be.
While credit must go to Mark Chenovick for a fully realized and evocatively disturbing set design, the consistency of characterization for all the Kit Kat girls and boys, the distinction of their individual personalities and the echoes of those personal stories they only rarely got to tell made this place, this subterranean club, unique and humanized. That’s especially important given the brutal dehumanization going on in the outer world with the rise of the Nazi Party.
Carol Richmond and David-Edward Hughes give us the relationship that most directly embodies that political ruination. As Fraulein Schneider, Richmond is elated to have found love late in life in the person of the good and kind Herr Schultz. He is equally delighted and their “It Couldn’t Please Me More” number was filled with surprise, promise and pleasure. By the time they sing “Married” at the end of Act One, the possibilities for them are beautiful and touching. If only he wasn’t a Jew.
Traditionally, this show centers on Sally Bowles and it is a role that requires a blend of complexity and naivety, doubt and optimism, a great talent that we know (without ever quite being able to say it) will not be enough, and a simultaneous warmth and alienation that make us love her while knowing that she will break our heart. I don’t think Kimberly McFerron was quite up to all that and she never quite made me feel the tenderness and sorrow that I think the character needs to bring us to. “Maybe This Time” was well performed, but in the first act she hadn’t quite earned our deepest wish for her success. By the end of the show her final “Cabaret” was excellent and I really wished that level of passion and desire had been present in Sally much earlier. Matthew Posner was quite good as the unsuccessful writer, Cliff Bradshaw, but I wanted to see more of why Sally would be unforgettable to him, of how she could come to represent everything tragic and magical and profoundly dramatic that was happening to the world, that was being lost from the world. I saw much deeper conflict in his unwitting collaboration with the Party than in his relationship with Sally. There was very little sexual tension between the two and even less of why they needed each other.
As I said, this show is most often about Sally, and it was refreshing to me that this production was not, was so much about all the others. In addition to well-drawn and well-finished characters, the broken citizens of the club danced their story. Wageman’s choreography was truly story telling, not simply theatrical, expressive movement, but truly interpretive dance that advanced the action while deepening the emotion. Krista Curry as Fritzie and Tamara Helland as Rosie were standouts in an impressively evenly balanced company.
The real star here is Troy Wageman, and that because he made the real star the show itself. Never heavy-handed with the Nazi sub-plot or trying too hard with the decadent eroticism, he simply put us into this world and let the experience shape us each in our own way. I really went to this hoping to see a good production of a show that I’ve seen well-produced many times. Instead, I got a new show. Nice work.
PICTURED ABOVE: (top) Sophia Federighi, Matt Poser (middle) Paul Gauger, Bo Mellinger (bottom) Robbie Turner
PHOTOS BY: Tim Poitevin