Last weekend and this weekend, the theatre department presented the classic musical “Cabaret,” directed by Professor of Theatre David Eppel in the CenterStage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. The show exposed a time and place in history that may be unfamiliar to many students: Berlin in 1929. Far from the rigid uniformity of Nazism, the city at this time represented a beacon of art and sexual freedom that drew wild personalities from the world over. Without shying away from this sense of indulgence, “Cabaret” managed to effectively work in a level of darkness and fear that came to pervade the show as a whole by its conclusion.
What really made the show was its cast of characters. From the directionless American and self-proclaimed writer Clifford Bradshaw (Bailey Edwards ’16) to the spontaneous and wild dancer Sally Bowles (Sarah Sanders ’14), each brought something completely unique to the show and was a joy to view. The adorable late-in-life romance between Herr Schultz (Matthew Conway ’15) and Fräulein Schneider (Gabrielle DiBendetto ’16) produced a collective sigh from the single audience members, while Fräulein Kost’s (Sara Harris ’12) constant antics with various lovers from the Navy gave occasional comic relief. Though all the German characters spoke and sang quite well in accent, Justin Jones ’16 proved to be the most adept with his German pronunciation in his character as shady businessman Ernst Ludwig. Out of all these unique personalities, the unnamed narrator and Master of Ceremonies, portrayed by Spencer McCarrey ’17, was perhaps the most memorable with his multilingual songs and occasional appearance in full drag.
“Cabaret” made no effort to shy away from the sexual culture that pervaded Berlin and in particular, the nightclub scene in which the musical is set. The Kit Kat Klub Girls (Alessandra Edgar ’17, Rachel Waldman ’17, Jackie Lane ’16 and Alice Murphy ’16) appeared in little more than lingerie, while the Kit Kat Klub Boys (Russell Maclin ’17, Harold Theurer ’17, Joshua Torres ’15 and Richard Whitney ’16) looked more like Chippendales dancers than anything else. Addressing issues of promiscuity, homosexuality and abortion, the musical did an excellent job of keeping these themes at the forefront without making the entire play about sex. While they were certainly a constant presence, the power lay in the fact that these seemingly major issues were accepted as normalcy within the performance, even though they were not accepted by the general society at the time in which the play is placed.
The CenterStage space is unusual for a musical. The stage itself is small, and seating is somewhat limited: The show has a run of two weeks, and every performance sold out within days. The multi-level stage was absolutely beautiful (scenic design credits go to Assistant Professor of Theatre David Evans Morris), with a sweeping staircase up the middle and various moving parts that slide and open to reveal new portions of the stage. It is no exaggeration to say that every inch of stage was used – and in exceedingly creative ways. The space had to pose as a nightclub, a boarding house and the interior of a train, among other things. However, some larger dance numbers appeared awkward, as the cast seemed scared of bumping into set pieces that crowded the ground level.
“Cabaret” is a musical, and the music did not disappoint in the least. The musicians, led by Eric Kang ’09, played from the back left corner of the second level of the stage, in full view of some members of the audience. All of the performers gave strong vocal performances, but the most striking was Sanders’ performance of “Cabaret.” For those who have seen the film version of “Cabaret,” where Liza Minnelli portrays Sally Bowles in a career-making role, this song is sung completely differently in the College’s production. Appearing in her least revealing costume, Sanders injects a sadness and desperation into the song that mirrors the rapidly shifting tone of the play. Sanders did not waste this opportunity to explore a complex and tragic character.
As the Nazi party began to rise, a darkness came over the play – only for the audience to realize that it had been present all along. The clown make-up on the performers that once seemed cheerful suddenly appeared to have the ghostly pallor of a corpse. The sexual freedom and easy money that defined Berlin suddenly took on an element of immorality and dirtiness. Characters who were Jewish all along were shunned by their friends and loved ones. Without giving too much away, the ending scene is nothing short of haunting.
“Cabaret” was an amazing production, and it will still grace the CenterStage for one more weekend. If you bought tickets, go. If you did not buy tickets, find a way to get in; this show is definitely worth it.