Friday, May 30, 2008

"Sexy Cabaret"

A review of Cabaret by Donal O'Connor at the Stratford Beacon Herald:

"Cabaret is not your usual musical. There’s no happy ending. Things don’t really get resolved.

"The story set in Berlin in 1930 is told by an American novelist named Cliff Bradshaw and is a reflection of a period of time he had spent in the city just when the Nazis were coming to power.

"The Stratford Shakespeare Festival’s production of the show that opened Thursday at the Avon Theatre acknowledges that coming storm and looks it squarely in the eye.

"Director Amanda Dehnert, in collaboration with set designer Douglas Paraschuk, has set the play in a bombed-out shell of a building of stone and exposed steel. Spotlights mounted on an upper landing are manned by characters in the play and are ominous reminders of wartime searchlights.

"The lighting by Kevin Fraser is, for the most part, harsh and contrasty. And, interestingly in this production, Sally Bowles (Trish Lindstrom), the featured singer at the Kit Kat Klub with whom Cliff (Sean Arbuckle) becomes involved, is portrayed as disturbed and angry rather than glamorous.

"There is, of course, lots more to the play based on Joe Masteroff’s book and the music of John Kander and lyrics of Fred Ebb. But those elements alone strongly set the mood of the Stratford production.

"Cabaret is about Cliff’s mixed-up relationship with Sally Bowles and it’s also about the characters who inhabit the Kit Kat and who provide the risque entertainment, not least of all the Emcee who has no name.

"Bruce Dow does the honours here and he presents a corpulent, bisexual master of ceremonies who is acutely attuned to all that’s happening around him. Decorated in some outrageous outfits by costume designer David Boechler, Mr. Dow’s Emcee is obviously in his element at the Kit Kat Klub where cross-dressing and other sexual deviations/experiments are the norm.

"And it’s an effective bit of staging that has the Emcee and lusty Klub entertainers frozen in place as ghostly witnesses to the unfolding of other lives when they’re not actually performing as dancers.

"Apart form Cliff and Sally, those 'other lives' include the courtly and kind-hearted Herr Schultz (Frank Moore) and his love interest Fraulein Schneider (Nora McLellan). The courtship between the elderly couple — he’s the Jewish fruit merchant, she’s the never-married landlady who rents rooms to Sally and Cliff — is given full play in this production.

"The characters are superbly portrayed, not least of all in the singing department.

"Ernst Ludwig, the charming German who befriends, uses and then assaults Cliff to further his political (Nazi) goals, is convincingly played by Cory O’Brien.

"There’s plenty of razzle-dazzle showbiz in Cabaret, and this production choreographed by Kelly Devine and with musical direction from Rick Fox does not disappoint in the song and dance area. Ms. Devine has assembled an agile and sexy company of dancers, and there’s no reason to think they don’t amply reflect the licentious goings-on after dark in Berlin on the brink of disaster.

"Still, for all of the inspired staging — there are some neat video projections and references to film of the period, and the creeping Nazism is also nicely handled — the show seems to have a significant flaw.

"Ms. Lindstrom’s Sally Bowles may well be as authentic as any, but her dour Sally does not an endearing character make. Nor does it suggest a reason why Cliff Bradshaw, quite well played by Mr. Arbuckle, would be attracted to her — unless it’s just about the singing.

"The show needs to find an emotional centre."

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