Cabaret Book by Joe Masteroff
Music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb
Directed by Kevin Gray
Choreography by Dodie Pettit
Musical Direction by David Patrick
Starring Peter Travis, Emily Killian, Dustin Schwab, Robert Yoho
Annie Russell Theater, Winter Park FL
We’ve all seen it happen – the new boss shows up, shuts down all the fun, and proceeds to make life miserable for everyone. Tonight the fun’s set in Weimar Germany, and while the Nazis tip well, they can’t admit to themselves they enjoy the drag show. Aspiring novelist Cliff (Schwab) flees a French-induced writers block and meets minor smuggler Herr Ludwig (Yoho) and alcoholic dancer Sally Bowles (Killian) his first day in Berlin. Herr Ludwig keeps his Nazi leaning quiet while polishing his English and waiting for the revolution. Sally dances at the Kit Kat club under the watchful eye of its Diamond Dog in Lederhosen Emcee (Travis). Between outrageous production numbers and gay bar sexual politics, life slowly unravels for everyone except Ludwig. Cliff’s land lady Frau Schneider (Amanda Leaky) breaks off her engagement to Herr Schultz (Jonathan Feebler) because he’s Jewish, Sally becomes pregnant but is fuzzy on the owner of the sperm, and Cliff adopts standards just high enough scotch the smuggling game. Everyone applauds the dance band as the iceberg bears down on Central Europe.
This “Cabaret” combines the high production values with a brand new set of lights and some innovative direction to spin a thrilling and delightful story. We begin with outrageous convention in the first act but take a dark turn in the second. Sparkly Emcee Travis not only introduces dancers and performs lascivious dance numbers, but his world weary affectation while moving microphones and flirting with Cliff only emphasized his exit – unafraid to spit in the eye of his overlords, this bad boy paid the price for his actions. Killian’s Sally abandons the smiling face of someone who was in on the joke and looks like she’d just been raped and beaten as she spits out her final song. Cliff knows more than few things about love, including one of the Kit Kat Boys, yet he’s always about two steps behind the reality of Sally’s portmanteau love affairs. Touching performances came from Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz – both genuinely wanted love, or at least companionship, but Schneider was bluffed out of it by the Nazis and Schultz hid behind a nationalism that would send him marching to the gas chamber singing “Deutschland Uber Alles.” Herr Ludwig pasted a friendly veneer over a simmering violence, but never really nailed his German accent. If there was a problem with this production, it was accents. Those who tackled them typically sounded more Russian than Prussian.
Two broken romances orbit the axis of this story, but under the direction of Kevin Gray we see love is only a drug to dull the pain of the coming collapse. Each person on stage is running from something: their past, their future, or their present, but no romance can save any of them. Cliff sampled bohemia yet flees to Middle America while Sally tried love and found it wanting and settles for sex. Schneider and Schultz are trapped by their class, and neither nationalism nor hard scrabble capitalism will save them from the storm. Ludwig and Mr. Emcee both revel in the collapse of the Old Régime, one thinking “This is the world the revolution promised” and other thinking “This is the revolution that promises glory.” The morning is cold and dank and almost here, but there’s time for one more bottle of champagne, and the band! Oh, the band! The band is still beautiful, just like the moment.
For more information on the Annie Russell Theatre at Rollins College, please visit http://www.rollins.edu/theatre/index.shtml