Book By Joe Masteroff, Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood.
Performed by Bruce Dow, Sean Arbuckle, Trish Lindstrom, Nora McLellan, Frank Moore, Cory O’Brien & Company
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Stratford Shakespeare Festival Production
May 13 to October 25, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Life is more than a Cabaret, Old Chum
The Stratford Festival’s production of Cabaret, at the Avon Theatre, is both good theatre and good music. Cabaret’s story provides far more food for thought than most musicals – an interesting change for Stratford after last year’s lightweight musicals My One and Only and Oklahoma!, both of which were strictly just for fun.
As well as having some meat to the plot, Cabaret also has superior singing and dancing. You leave the theatre humming the tunes, but also pondering the history lesson.
Berlin in 1929 is a hedonistic place. One can see how Nazism rose as a backlash to this Bohemian life style, and how those who were just looking for a good time allowed the Nazis to come to power, believing politics didn’t concern them. As well as the issues of racism and anti-Semitism, the plot includes other subjects that would be taboo in 1929 in other parts of the world – promiscuity, abortion, homosexuality.
The set is the Berlin train station; very fitting as this is where the story begins and ends. Based on autobiographical accounts written by Christopher Isherwood, Cabaret’s main character American Clifford Bradshaw is Isherwood. We see his arrival in Berlin on New Year’s Eve 1929, and his departure from the same train station a year or so later.
The dirty train station lends itself well to becoming the gritty Kit Kat Klub, home of the Emcee, described in the playbill as “eerily flamboyant”. The nightclub also features British singer Sally Bowles.
Clifford settles in at Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, and goes to the night club, where he not only meets an old boyfriend, but the flighty and charming Sally. He is also unwittingly drawn into helping the Nazi cause. In another story, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a Jew, fall in love, but under pressure from a Nazi acquaintance, she breaks the engagement.
Cabaret is cleverly put together with the night club acts mirroring what is happening in Clifford’s and Sally’s lives. The Emcee is not only controlling what is happening at the Kit Kat Klub, he seems to be the puppet master of all Berlin.
Bruce Dow is outstanding as the creepy and raunchy Emcee. His beautiful tenor voice is very welcoming in “Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome”. Sean Arbuckle is well cast as Clifford Bradshaw, the frustrated writer who at first embraces Berlin, but then suddenly sees where things are headed. Arbuckle takes the character on the journey making his change of heart believable. Trish Lindstrom is fascinating as Sally Bowles. She fills the stage, tossing herself around, flopping on the bed, larger than life. She belts out the songs — “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Cabaret” with great energy. While Lindstrom’s singing voice is not the most melodic, she makes up for it with vocal strength and her captivating stage presence. Nora McLellan and Frank Moore as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Shultz are wonderful with “It couldn’t please me more (the Pineapple Song)” and the chemistry between them in their little love story is enchanting.
The entire cast is mesmerizing in their presentation of the many unusual characters. Each has his or her individual moment, from the topless trapeze artist to the lesbian club owner. The choreography is interesting and the singing powerful. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is at first rousing, then chilling in the reprise when you realize it’s the Nazi theme song.
If you only know Cabaret by the 1970s movie, then you should see this production – the plot is far superior and director Amanda Dehnert has given the audience a distinct impression of 1929 Berlin. The movie version was skewed to support Liza Minnelli. Canada’s best repertory theatre has chosen a great musical and selected a strong Canadian cast to present it. As they say, “Come to the Cabaret”.
Cabaret continues at the Avon Theatre, Stratford until October 25. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.ca.