All photos by Joan Marcus from the 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET.
[Click any photo to enlarge]
It is the early 1930’s in Berlin and the powerful rise of the Nazi party is not far off. Before the curtain rises on this absolutely stunning revival of the 1998 Roundabout Theatre Company production of Broadway’s 1967 Tony Award-winning, CABARET, the arriving audience finds itself part of the clever illusion of being in the dimly lit backstage of the seedy Kit Kat Club. The performers slowly assemble on stage to warm up while tuning instruments and doing pre-performance stretches. Those will be the last quiet moments before this sensational edition of the classic John Kander & Fred Ebb musical takes off like a rocket at Houston’s Hobby Center with able direction from BT McNicholl.
Guiding the action at the nightclub in the role of the Emcee is Randy Harrison in an electrifying performance that could simply not be topped. He literally owns the stage from the moment he welcomes the audience with the memorable “Willkommen,” to the final shocking twist that comes at show’s end. That opening number, with its fine ensemble of Kit Kat Girls and Kit Kat Boys, immediately sets the standard for the visually and musically splendid night of theatre that will follow as the Emcee leads the merry madness of songs like, “Money,” “Two Ladies,” or the satirical attack on Nazism, “If You Could See Her?” The captivating score makes it easy to understand why, after 50 years, this musical can still pack the house. But the staging here, the perfect casting, the extraordinary dancing and the enormous onstage orchestra of some two-dozen fine musicians (director, Robert Cookman) all combine to approach theatrical perfection. It would be worth the price of admission just to hear this Kit Kat Band in concert. The sexy and raunchy original Rob Marshall choreography of the 1998 revival is skillfully recreated here by Associate Choreographer, Cynthia Onrubia, and her ensemble cast of incredible dancers. Meanwhile, the lighting designs of Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari mysteriously illuminate the tacky desperation of this pre-war world, beautifully realized in the set designs of Robert Brill.
Central to the story is the character of the nightclub’s struggling star, Sally Bowles, beautifully performed by lovely and velvet-voiced Andrea Goss, looking a bit like a cute cross between Clara Bow and Betty Boop. Her performances of the title song and the tender, “Maybe This Time,” are sensational. Sally soon finds romance with handsome American writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Lee Aaron Rosen), who has come to Berlin to work on his novel and is helped in finding an apartment by a suspicious Nazi sympathizer named Ernst Ludwig (Ned Noyes). Rosen has a deep, rich voice for both dialogue and song that is well-displayed in his fine duet of “Perfectly Marvelous” with Miss Goss.
Also marvelous is the sweet relationship that develops between Cliff’s cautious landlady, Fräulein Schneider (Shannon Cochran), and a local Jewish fruit merchant, Herr Schultz (an affectionate portrayal by Mark Nelson). In spite of numerous amusing interruptions from a woman of ill repute living in Schneider’s apartment building (Alison Ewing as the comical Fräulein Kost), Schneider and Schultz have an innocent and darling love affair that is beautifully captured in tender songs like, “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” and “Married.” Alas, the rising tide of Nazi anti-Semitism puts that relationship at risk as Miss Cochran sings the chilling, “What Would You Do?” Chilling as well, at the close of Act One, is the full company’s frenzied and anthem-like, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” led by Fräulein Kost and Ernst Ludwig.
Cliff sizes up this time in Berlin very well when he remarks, “It’s all tawdry and terrible, and everyone’s having a wonderful time.” But the audience knows this era in Germany does not end well, even as the Emcee declares, “Life is disappointing, but we have no troubles here!”