Maybe it’s because I grew up not far from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Or maybe because my own first travels in Europe centered around picking up mail and fellow travelers at the American Express Office in London or Paris… For those reasons and more I found it easy to follow Bruce Landry’s terrific performance as Clifford Bradshaw arriving in Berlin just as the ascent of Nazi influence was in full flower – writing home to tell his parents some things about his travels and omitting others. Haven’t we all done that? Landry projected both the naivete that accompanies new experiences and the wisdom of a background of values so nicely.
The story line in “CABARET” is developed through his eyes, arriving by train in Berlin on New Year’s Eve, being quickly introduced by Ernst Ludvig (Tim Fuchs – also a winning performance) to Fraulein Schneider (Jennifer Smith – more on her later)’s rooming house and then to the revels at the KitKat Club, where he connects with a former boyfriend and a brand-new girlfriend all in a few hours’ time from getting off the train!
The thing about actors, and acting, is that they first audition and get chosen for a role, and then use their own techniques to flesh out that role so the audience gets a believable performance. If that whole process works (the choosing, coaching and direction, sounds and movements and becoming the person they are representing) we, the audience, go home having followed and understood the story we have watched unfold.
Jennifer Smith did a superb job as Fraulein Schneider – the landlady who’s only remaining resource is her license to operate a boarding house. She projected both values of honor and dignity, co-mingled with desperation, about tenants NOT sharing rooms with ‘friends’ while at the same time enjoying visits and attention from Herr Schultz (Kevin Ligon). Smith and Ligon sang beautifully together in the numbers which defined their relationship: “A Pineapple for You/Me,” and “Married,” in which they were joined by Terra C MacLeod (as Fraulein Kost) whose fine voice made the trio quite lovely. MacLeod’s skills shined in other numbers too.
As is always true at Goodspeed, the members of the Ensemble were beautifully disciplined and acrobatic in their many carefully choreographed (Lainie Sakakura) numbers, often representing either the boys or the girls of the KitKat Club. Their costumes (Lex Liang) were skant enough to leave little to the imagination.
The acknowledged star role in the menagerie at the KitKat Club was Sally Bowles, played by Aline Mayagoitia with verve and sparling energy, which became more intense as the show moved on. It was Sally who quickly moved in with Cliff, assuring Fraulein Schneider that they were engaged, and who, months later, traded her wondrous fur coat to the doctor who ended her pregnancy while Cliff was arranging to take her ‘home’ to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Her final number, “CABARET,” was stupendous.
My one disappointment was in the choice of Jelani Remy for the central role of the Emcee. Remy is a large man and even though his movements and dancing seemed to be precise they were overwhelmed by his largess. I never felt as if he was connecting to the audience, so much of the impact he should have made was lost
The bottom line, then, is that this production did not sweep me away in the way that I had hoped, and I would not say that it’s a great loss if you’ve missed it. CABARET is a great musical. It documents a serious element of global history just before World War II. Because of that, it should be played, and it should be seen. Hopefully it will continue to be on production lists for a long time to come. If you want to see it at Goodspeed, it plays through July 3. Call 860-873-8668 for tickets.
Tom Nissley, for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre. 5/30/2022