“Cabaret”, the classic 1966 Tony Award winning musical that spawned an Oscar winning film by Bob Fosse in 1972 and an acclaimed Broadway revival by director Sam Mendes in 1998, is currently in production at the Ivoryton Playhouse. This challenging, brilliant musical is always worth seeing even when it is under lesser circumstances.
Based on the play by Joan Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff, “Cabaret” tells its story through the eyes of struggling American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Andy Tighe) who visits Berlin in 1939 just as the Nazi movement is taking hold. He rents a room not far from the seedy Kit Kat Klub which serves as a metaphor about the downfall of a society plunging into decadence. The cabaret is run by the Emcee (Sam Given) and headlined by British singer Sally Bowles (Katie Mack). Taken by the sheer force of her personality, Cliff falls for Sally and their doomed affair begins as the rumblings of fanaticism take hold.
The Ivoryton production (based on the 1998 revival) gets off to a strong start with Given leading the company in a fine rendition of “Willkcommen”. Director/Choreographer Todd Underwood does a good job of sorting out the various characters who are all deftly introduced within the framework of this potent opening number. He is less successful, however, in making each subsequent number a part of the growing dread. All the music here, under the able musical direction of Michael Morris and his terrific on-stage band, is delivered fairly well, but it rarely seems part of the whole, part of the inevitable horror story that unfolds. It’s more like a greatest hits concert performed by singer/actors who are good enough to make you wish they were just a little better.
It’s interesting to note that the secondary characters succeed a little more than the leads in this rendering. Cliff’s elderly landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Carolyn Popp) and the Jewish fruit seller who woos her, Herr Schultz (John Little), shine in roles that become the heart of the production. And Carlyn Connolly is forceful and commanding enough as Fraulein Kost, a savvy prostitute who knows her worth, to make you wonder what she might have brought to the leading role of Sally.
Scenic Designer Daniel Nischan has done wonders with Ivoryton’s limited stage creating an impressive Kit Kat Klub, but it would have been helpful if he allowed a permanent set for Cliff’s single room so time wouldn’t be wasted continually setting up the area. In that regard, the pacing was relatively sluggish on opening night especially in a longish first act. Costumer Kate Bunch brings plenty of imagination to the show even as I question the “Hamilton”-inspired choices worn for the “Money” production number. And, without giving too much away, Bunch also tips her hand prior to the devastating climax with her choice of striped slacks for the Emcee.
Even with some reservations, however, any chance to see a production of this landmark musical should be taken.
“Cabaret” continues at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, Connecticut through September 1. For further information call the theatre box office at: 860.767.7318 or visit: www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor and resident critic of WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Town Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.