Theatre Review: ‘Cabaret’ at SUNY Buffalo State

The precarious cultural/political moment that we’re all currently living in is, historically, not particularly unique. Looking across time and geography, one can point to many instances throughout history that were ripe with anxiety and hostility toward immigrants, racial minorities, religious “others”, and political opponents. Germany during the 1930’s is probably the most obvious example.  While our current moment is arguably not quite as dire as the pre-WWII era, the similarities are certainly there. So, right now is a very fitting time to put on a production of “Cabaret,” the iconic burlesque musical set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. Apart from the glitzy aesthetic, catchy songs, and artistic peculiarities that make the show so unique, it addresses issues that are, unfortunately, once again topical.

. . .fans of “Cabaret” should certainly give this production a shot.

“Cabaret” is a 1966 musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff. Set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, it focuses on the nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub, and revolves around young American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Julien Melloni) and his relationship with English cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Lily Jones). A sub-plot involves the doomed romance between German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider (Kaeli McGinnis) and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz (Andrew Ross), a Jewish fruit vendor. Overseeing everything is the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub (Shayne Jones), who not only interacts with the other characters in the show, but frequently breaks down the fourth wall and talks to the audience.

“Cabaret” is a heavy lift, and is a show that you don’t often see done by non-professional theatre companies for a multitude of reasons; it’s edgy, raunchy, very sexual, but most notably because it’s artistically challenging.  “Cabaret” lives-or-dies by the strength of the dancers, singers, and costume designers; after all, the bulk of the story takes place at a burlesque nightclub. Buff State’s production of this show has strong elements. Lily Jones was exceptional as Sally Bowles, giving powerful vocal performances and gut-punching you during the really emotional moments, particularly in the second act. Ricky Needham was equally strong as Ernest Ludwig, a character that has to be warm and likable one moment and frightening the next; his performance was very effective.  The show had several standout ensemble moments too, particularly the song “It Couldn’t Please Me More’ the crazily-adorable duo between Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider; and “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, the chilling Nazi propaganda song that ends act one.

Understandably, the stuff that makes “Cabaret” a heavy lift (choreography, costumes, etc.) is the stuff that this production struggled with. The choreography, while exceptional in a couple songs, was very clunky in many others.  Several of the featured actors struggled singing songs that were well out of their range, and the strain was evident. Mostly though, the performance wasn’t edgy and failed to take risks. “Cabaret” diehards (and there are many) love this show because it’s in-your-face, daring the audience to be shocked or appalled; think just-this-side of Rocky Horror. The cast isn’t supposed to scuttle around or hurry through the gritty/sexual/intense moments, but really REALLY dig into them. There were a few moments in which the cast embraced the show’s grittiness, but overall it felt tame, safe, and often very awkward. But that’s what makes this show difficult, and it’s the stuff you can’t really train/practice for like you can acting, singing, and dancing. It’s possible that much of this can be chalked up to opening night jitters, so fans of “Cabaret” should certainly give this production a shot.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

Advisory:  adult language and themes.

“Cabaret” runs until Saturday, April 28, 2018 at Buffalo State College’s Warren Enters Theatre in Upton Hall. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Cabaret’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

    17814321_1305021739585610_4310550886642509880_oThe National Touring Company of “Cabaret.”

Entertainment comes in all forms. The best form of entertainment is when everyone can find something to enjoy, and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of “Cabaret” has something for everyone. Music, dancing, sex, temptation, and a heartbreaking ending are all thrown into the mix, making this show my favorite of the season.

. . .not your grandmother’s “Cabaret”. . .A phenomenal show. . .

“Cabaret” is the classic Kander and Ebb musical about a night club and it’s patrons in Berlin during the uprising of the Nazi forces. As the political climate turns, friendships are tested, morals are questioned, and love may not be strong enough to conquer all. The human condition is put on display here as Clifford Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley), a novelist from America, arrives to work on his next book. Searching for inspiration, Bradshaw meets Sally Bowles (Leigh Ann Larkin) a cabaret entertainer and lady of the night, and in typical musical fashion, the two fall in love. In the same building a budding romance between Fräulein Kost (Mary Gordon Murray) and Herr Schultz (Scott Robinson) is brewing, but when it is discovered that Schulz is jewish, things start to fall to the wayside for their relationship. A creepy, goofy, and entertaining Emcee (Jon Peterson) leads the audience through the action as this story unfolds.

This production is not afraid to push the envelope. It is not your grandmother’s “Cabaret,” and it will make you feel uncomfortable at times, but that is what makes it so amazing.

Robert Brill’s set design is the most aesthetically pleasing set I have seen in some time. Minimalistic, yet incredibly effective, this set is one you are not likely to forget. Not only does it assist in telling the story, but it allows the audience to use it’s own imagination in creating the setting.

William Ivey Long’s costume design is sultry, sexy, and really helps set the tone of a raunchy, filthy, promiscuous Berlin. They are fantastic.

Leading the show as the Emcee is Jon Peterson. Peterson creates a portrayal that is so multi- dimensional and exciting, you cannot wait to see what he is up to next. Opening the show with ‘Willkommen,” Peterson instantly grabs you by the throat, and doesn’t let you go for the entire performance. His showmanship, especially as the Master of Ceremonies in the club, and as the pivotal ringleader of the expositional action, is supreme. You will love what he does with the character and will be pleased with his artistic choices. Seeing him lurk in the shadows as the story progresses is some of the most effective blocking I have seen in a show in a long time.

Leigh Ann Larkin does a wonderful job playing the role of of Sally Bowles.  She portrays the conflicted night club entertainer to a tee and her performance of “Cabaret” does not disappoint.

Benjamin Eakeley is perfectly cast as Clifford Bradshaw. He brings a great deal of heart and empathy to the role. He is instantly an audience favorite when he enters the stage.

Mary Gordon Murray as Fräulein Kost and Scott Robinson as Herr Schultz are wonderful choices for these roles and they each give admirable performances. You love them, and your heart breaks for them.

The ensemble of singers, dancers, and musicians make this show a powerhouse. I am always a big fan of seeing the band perform on stage along with the show, and this still holds true with this production. It heightens the bar too when the actors are also the musicians for the performance.

Not being a huge fan of “Cabaret” walking in, the Roundabout Theatre Company production has won me over. A phenomenal show. Do yourself the favor, go see it!

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with a 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult content, language, and cigarette smoke.

“Cabaret” runs until April 30, 2017 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.