by ERIKA SASSEVILLE
I’ll admit, I may have been a terrible theater major. Before this week, I’d never seen Cabaret, either in film or on stage. Even so, my companion and I were blown away by Roundabout Theatre’s production playing through October 23 at the Orpheum Theatre.
Cabaret premiered on Broadway in 1966 and picked up eight Tony Awards, among others. This national tour stems from the 1998 and then 2014 Broadway revivals, famously headlined by Alan Cumming as the Emcee. This production contains all the glorious choreography, singing, orchestration, and spectacle that I expected and more.
Randy Harrison (Emcee) tantalized and shocked the audience throughout the show as an ever-present source of devilish charm and dark foreboding. From the very beginning, he broke through our comfortable positions in the audience and brought us into the Kit Kat Club. He asked us to leave our troubles behind and for a while we could. He is at times hilarious, sexy, ominous, and charming. His songs “Two Ladies” and “If You Could See Her” hold as much meaning as they create laughs.
Cabaret centers on two couples: American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley) and Sally Bowles (Andrea Gross) meet at the Kit Kat Club where Sally is a performer. Their whirlwind relationship is accelerated even further when Sally discovers she is pregnant. Their whirlwind turns into a hurricane by the end of the show, neither of them coming out unscathed by circumstance. Sally’s “Maybe This Time” and titular “Cabaret” are perhaps the most well known and most beloved songs from the show, as well as the most heart-wrenching.
Cliff and Sally live in a room rented to them by Fraulein Schneider (Shannon Cochran). The Fraulein is a self-proclaimed spinster who develops feelings for another of her residents, a charming Jewish fruit seller, Herr Schultz (Mark Nelson). They explore their romantic feelings in the absolutely charming “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” before Herr Schultz gets up the courage to ask for her hand in marriage in the aptly named “Married.” Both songs showcase the undeniable chemistry between the two actors.
I was extremely impressed by the incredible set (Robert Brill) and lighting design (Peggy Eisenhauer & Mike Baldassari). I string them together here because they complement each other so seamlessly. The main frame of the set is a literal frame of lights, reminiscent of a theater or club marquee. Single incandescent trimming the proscenium, as well as a smaller off-kilter frame hanging above the main space between the audience and where the orchestra plays. The latter is more appropriate for the Kit Kat Club, crooked, broken, and – well – dangling. Again and again I was dazzled by the brilliance of the lighting design and it’s purpose to differentiate between real life and the cabaret.
As the show goes on, the plot thickens. Cliff and Sally are thrown a loop when presented with the frightening life changes facing them. Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz face the heart-breaking reality of being in an interfaith relationship under the looming threat of the Third Reich. The Kit Kat Club is a spot of loose morals and free love surrounded by the same ultra-conservative, ultra-religious Nazi Party. Cliff and Fraulein Schneider fear this growing threat to their lives and freedom in Berlin, but cannot convince their loved ones to recognize it as such. Unfortunately for the audience, this show reminds us that while life may not be a cabaret, we cannot ignore our troubles forever. Eventually, we all have to face the music.
Cabaret, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood. Original direction by Sam Mendes and original co-direction & choreography by Rob Marshall. Tour direction by BT McNicholl, recreated choreography by Cynthia Onrubia. Set design by Robert Brill, costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari. Oct. 18-Oct. 23, 2016 at the Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets are on sale now at the State Theatre Box Office (805 Hennepin Ave.), calling (800) 982-2787 or clicking to HennepinTheatreTrust.org. Ticket prices start at $39.