Friday, May 30, 2008

Come to the Cabaret

Toronto Star theatre critic Richard Ouzounian gives Cabaret 3 out of 4 stars:

"Come to the cabaret, old chum, but be prepared to be initially bowled over and ultimately disappointed.

"Amanda Dehnert's revival of the Kander and Ebb musical which opened at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival last night starts out like gangbusters, nailing you to the wall with a first act that is easily the most provocative and brilliantly staged musical in Stratford history.

"But something happens over intermission and – despite a few musical highlights – it ends as T.S. Eliot said the world would, 'Not with a bang, but with a whimper.'

"The story of failed American author Cliff Bradshaw, who comes to Berlin in the final days of the grand orgy that led to the rise of the Nazi party, has become so familiar that in recent years, directors have gone mad trying to outshock each other.

"For a while, it looks like Dehnert and her Stratford company have succeeded. Doug Paraschuk's set is not the Kit Kat Club but a desolate railroad station long after the last train for Auschwitz has gone.

"Kevin Fraser delivers probably the most daring lighting in his distinguished career, splashing the stage with lurid colours and illuminating people from unlikely angles, while David Boechler's costumes emphasize the erotic on everyone and Kelly Devine's choreography raises the sexual stakes even higher.

"Our guide, of course, is the Emcee, radically reinterpreted here by Bruce Dow to be part Satan and part Rosie O'Donnell. Dow is like a silent movie clown on acid: all seeing, all knowing, all leering. At the end of the show, he'll prove to have a heart, but by then it's too late for anyone.

"Until then, Dow is superbly confident and delivers his songs with all his old panache, but with a new and frightening edge.

"Radical reinterpretation has also gone on with the show's other major lead, Sally Bowles. This British failed singer and emotional vacuum usually calls on young women to play the diva card.
Not Trish Lindström. She's a truly scary creature, strung tighter than a violin, with the wild, darting eyes of the truly mad. She's a charmer yes, but you immediately sense the baggage she brings with her extends far past her luggage.

"When Dehnert lets her self-destruct before our eyes during "Cabaret" it's like the proverbial car crash that you don't want to see, but can't look away from.

"There are other excellent performances as well, led by Sean Arbuckle as Cliff Bradshaw, who winds up, quite against his will, being the moral centre of the play. He's charming but weak, which is somehow an irresistible combination.

"Nora McLellan brings great depth and enormous pain to Fraulein Schneider, who throws away her one chance at love to surive the Nazi onslaught.

"And Frank Moore is heartbreaking as her lover, Herr Schultz, playing for tattered dignity rather than easy pathos.

"We also get a nice turn from Cory O'Brien as the duplicitous Nazi, Ernst Ludwig, and a lusty contribution from Diana Coatsworth as the prostitute Fraulein Kost.

"But with so much going right, it's hard to see how Dehnert lets all the air out of the tires in Act II. It begins with a seemingly pointless mock-athletic ballet for the company and even the Emcee's lethal gorilla dance on "If You Could See Her Through My Eyes" is strangely muted.

"By the time we get to the finale, which Sam Mendes, for example, turned into a moment of pure horror, Dehnert seems to have simply run out of inspiration.

"The show doesn't end. It just stops.

"But fans of exciting theatricality should show up for the thrills available in the first act and the excellent performances throughout.

"After all, what good is sitting alone in your room?"

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