On the surface it was a very enjoyable and competent Montgomery College production of Kander & Ebb’s musical classic, “Cabaret.” But sprinkled within, one could find the kind of theatrical excellence expected on the professional stage. Amateur theater sometimes has pleasant surprises. I have seen two incarnations of this show on Broadway, but my favorite production was from Theatre Bristol in the border city of Bristol, Tennessee / Virginia. Now I can savor the show’s success right here in Montgomery County.
Ably directed by Ellen Ketchum, this “Cabaret” works hard to create the illusion of a “decadent little establishment” in Berlin of the 1930’s. Side ramps of the stage were fitted with cabaret tables where supporting cast members participated as audience members at the Kit Kat Klub. They rowdily cheer the performers and make passes at each other. Meanwhile, throughout the evening, assortments of oddball club patrons (like Adam Ranney as the voluptuous Drag Queen) wander nonchalantly through the audience, sometimes lounging in the aisles. I overheard some audience members puzzling over this; but for me, it added an authentic and creative dimension to the production that sustained the nightclub aura and tended to draw the audience into this peculiar world.
Conductor and Musical Director, David Englert, had his ten musicians gently obscured, but visible behind a backstage scrim. If their performance was not Broadway caliber, it was never the less prepared to serve this student production quite well, and at volumes that never distracted from the singers. There was bright, dependable lighting from designer, Justin Woods, and a wonderful grouping of both comically sleazy and period fashions from the costumers atDanny’s Trix & Kix. Some of the outfits looked like imports from Fredericks of Hollywood! Simplicity, creativity and easy mobility highlighted the excellent Scenic Designs of Lorne S. Kelley, Chris Thomas and Jim Powels, while dependably audible Sound Designs came from James Finney. D’Andra Swanson deserves credit for the many outlandish and imaginative Make-up designs for the large cast.
Speaking of the cast, it was well anchored by the excellent “in your face” characterization of Joey Lamont as the club Emcee. He was at once bold, silly, and vocally solid, while inviting his pre-war audience to “Leave your troubles outside! In here, everything is beautiful!” With all due respect to Joel Grey, Lamont made the part very much his own.
For added excellence there was a truly astounding performance from Ellen Perez as Fraulein Schneider. If this had been the New York stage, her rich, gentle, and convincing characterization of the blushing German landlady would have passed with flying colors. What made it more remarkable was the fact that this was Perez’ acting debut. Add to that her wonderful singing voice and it was a truly winning combination. I hope our friends at the nearby Crighton Theatre can find more work for her. Nicely paired with Perez is Matt Radcliffe as Herr Schultz (Schneider’s love interest). While his voice lacks the power of hers, he delivers cute punch lines, and they adorably duet in sweet songs like “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married.”
As the cabaret’s singer, Sally Bowles, Montgomery veteran Leslie Harlton is paired with handsome Stephen Bollom portraying the American writer, Cliff Bradshaw. In appearance, Bollom could easily double for actor Matt Damon. The romance of the two is not always convincing, but has many good moments. Their sweet duet of “Perfectly Marvelous” was nice, but not perfectly on key. When Bollom sings “Don’t Go Sally,” it is evident that his pleasant voice has an endearing quality that offers great possibilities with continued training. And Harlton lights up the stage early with the Kit Kat Girls (Amber Gensbigler, Molly Hannon, Lindsay Morris, Kristie Terpstra) in a brassy “Don’t Tell Mama” that is full of fun and the fine choreography of Miss Gensbigler. Lamont adds to the fun leading the racy, “Two Ladies.” Although one microphone was over-amplified, there was a fine ensemble performance of the anthem, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Lamont shines again leading the Ensemble in the brisk tongue twister, “Money.”
While the extensive supporting cast is too large to list here, there was good work by Jim Powels (as the emerging Nazi, Ernst Ludwig) and Jenni Nabors as Fraulein Kost. Nabors offered a late inning surprise with her fine singing voice in a reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” The growing Nazi tensions of Act II are relieved a bit by the merry choreography of the “Kick Line,” and the uproarious “If You Could See Her,” featuring a wonderful roller-skating Gorilla (Gensbigler). Schneider’s poignant “What Would You Do” is a wrenching tale of surviving among the Nazis, and was another vocal and dramatic triumph for Perez. When she sings the line, “Would you pay the price?” it seems to speak to the courage of our nation’s troops now overseas. Finally, Harlton bravely takes on the task of singing the title song so closely identified with Liza Minelli’s signature performance in the film version.
As the Nazis begin to round up the Jew, blacks, gays etc., we hear the Emcee’s chilling line, “It was only politics, and what has that got to do with us?” Talk about a message for our time! In a final irony, I found myself, the very next day, attending a screening of the Academy Award-winning holocaust saga, “The Pianist.” It’s horrific tale of Nazi cruelty seemed to be a devastating sequel to “Cabaret.” But its ultimate triumph of freedom sees the Allies arrive in Germany. One might hope a similar fate is unfolding for the people of Iraq.
Cabaret’s final performance is today at 2 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door of the M.C. Theatre Bldg. For information call 936-273-7021.
(The Villager 4.10.03)
(The Courier 4.13.03)