Keegan Theatre CabaretBy Jacob Kresloff • Feb 3rd, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Keegan Theatre: (Info) (Web)
Church Street Theater, Washington DC
Through February 23rd
$40/$35 Seniors, Students
2:30 with one intermission
Reviewed February 1st, 2013
Directors Christina Coakley and Michael Innocenti have successfully provided DC with a piece of genuinely excellent theatre. The Keegan Theatre’s production of Cabaret is well-timed, indeed, as it lines up with the 1972 film’s 40th anniversary. However, this production embraces the musical’s more sinister roots making it quite different than the, for lack of a better word, light-hearted nature of the film. Upon walking into the theatre, it became clear Coakley and Innocenti chose to base their production on the Studio 54 1998 Broadway revival. Regardless of approach, their production is refined, mesmerizing, and a refreshing take on a musical that can admittedly be repetitive in its presentational nature. The production’s innovation in storytelling went hand-in-hand with Coakley and Innocenti’s crisp staging, Rachel Leigh Dolan’s beautiful choreography, and most of the casts’ truthful and spot-on performances.
Based on John Van Druten’s play, I Am The Camera, and Christopher Isherwood’s short novel, “Goodbye to Berlin,” Cabaret follows the seedy nightlife of the Kit Kat Klub during the Nazi’s rise to power in 1931. Specifically, it focuses on Sally Bowles, an English cabaret performer, and her romantic entanglement with Clifford Bradshaw, a young American writer. Overseeing the whole affair is the Emcee, a charismatic but twisted Master of Ceremonies, who frequently narrates the action occurring outside of the nightclub. As a whole, the production delicately and professionally finds the balance between presentational and representational theatre. The production’s transitions from the realistic to the theatrical are quite seamless. Speaking of theatrical, the musical’s diegetic numbers are performed with a delightful combination of whimsy and chilling seriousness. From Sally dancing with her very own lollipop guild to the Emcee enjoying a romp with a boy or two, Innocenti and Coakley ensure that the audiences’ eyes remain glued to the stage. This production honors the musical’s episodic nature better than any production of Cabaret I’ve seen thus far. The production told the story particularly well, especially in places where the musical’s nonlinear structure made the plot a bit muddy. At what point does Sally notice Cliff in the Kit Kat Klub, for example? What does “Mein Herr” discuss? You’ll find out!
Innocenti’s scant set design beautifully showcases the Church Street space’s skeletal and bricked interior, immediately creating the deliciously seedy effect that the Kit Kat Klub emanates. The slight touches and flourishes of period-specific costumes and props play an effective role in showcasing the performers’ abilities, as there are few distracting scenic elements. Innocenti’s lighting design is a delicate balance of the musical’s real and heightened moments and Jake Null’s sound design is well-placed and unobtrusive. The orchestra, which lives above the stage, played Kander’s score with deliberation, honoring the minimalistic musical style of the 1998 revival, while making homage to some of the “Weillian” musical flourishes of the 1966 original production.
Cabaret‘s characters undergo political, social, and economic strife, forcing them to reveal to us their true, or otherwise conflicted, natures. Indeed, most of the actors did just that, all the while playing their parts with a great deal of life and authenticity without necessarily relying upon the traditions of past productions. Paul Scanlan was mesmerizing to watch as the Emcee. He simultaneously charmed and disgusted the audience by switching between charismatic entertainer and twisted pervert. Armed with a silky singing voice, Scanlan sang his ghostly and hypnotic rendition of “I Don’t Care Much,” for example, making the audience cringe in their seats and yearn for more at the same time. I was also delighted to see that Scanlan did not call upon Joel Grey or Alan Cumming for inspiration, particularly at the end of “If You Could See Her.” Maria Rizzo’s performance as Sally Bowles was inspiring as she sporadically went from effervescent performer to wry alcoholic with a tragicomic whimsy. I would argue, however, that Rizzo’s singing voice was perhaps too pretty for the role. I have always thought of Sally as a particularly untalented character, but Rizzo glided through songs like “Maybe This Time” and “Mein Herr,” regardless of how introspective those songs were, a bit too gracefully. Throughout the musical, I kept asking myself why Bowles felt the need to leave Mayfair with a voice like that. Interestingly enough, there were times where Rizzo sped up in her songs. Regardless of whether this was a deliberate acting choice or merely incidental, I felt it added an extra layer of instability to Rizzo’s performance of Sally. Bradley Foster Smith’s performance of the optimistic and wide-eyed Cliff was a breath of fresh air. Too often have I seen actors play Cliff with a straight-laced and matter-of-fact air that closer resembled Christopher Isherwood than the character himself.
Jane Petkofsky was radiant as Fräulein Schneider. From “So What?” to “What Would You Do?,” Petkofsky’s take on the tough and hardworking Schneider brought either a smile to my face or a chill in my spine. Stan Shulman’s performance as Herr Schultz may have been the most charming thing about this production. Shulman’s comedic timing was impeccable, whether he drunkenly stumbled around at his own engagement party or sheepishly gave a pineapple to his lady-love. The two actors were an absolute delight in “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married;” I could not help but giggle under my breath as the two danced around the stage. Christopher Gillespie was quite effective as Ernst Ludwig, Cliff’s first introduction to Berlin. I would, however, have liked to see more of Ludwig’s comical side (see: “We can make a large whoopee, ja?”) in the first act, as it would have made his personality change in the second act all the more jarring.
Special congratulations go to the ensemble members of the production, who created the deliciously hyper-sexual and chilling ambience of the Cabaret‘s Germany with great enthusiasm and selflessness. The whole cast worked tirelessly through Dolan’s choreography. My main criticism of the ensemble, however, concerns the males; while they romped and rolled with gusto as Kit Kat Boys, their performances as intimidating Nazi soldiers were perhaps less than effective.
This production is, at its core, a fun romp in Berlin but it also treats on deeper and darker issues that pervaded Weimar Germany during the Nazis’ rise to power. It would be a grave mistake to miss out on this production, for in spite of my criticism, the truly excellent outweighs the slightly disappointing or under-explored.
Photos by Cameron Whitman and C. Stanley Photography
- Emcee: Paul Scanlan
- Sally Bowles: Maria Rizzo
- Clifford Bradshaw: Bradley Foster Smith
- Fräulein Schneider: Jane Petkofsky
- Herr Schultz: Stan Shulman
- Fräulein Kost/Fritzie: Sarah Lasko
- Ernst Ludwig: Christopher Gillespie
- Max/Herman: Charlie Abel
- German Officer/Hans/Rudy: Timothy Adams
- Lulu: Shayna Blass
- Helga: Sarah Chapin
- Texas: Alison Crosby
- Rosie: Paige Felix
- Bobby: Matthew Rubbelke
- Frenchie: Erin Ryan
- Victor: Ryan Patrick Welsh
- Swings: Shannon Marie Cusselo, Ben Lurye
- Director: Christina A. Coakley
- Director/Set Designer: Michael Innocenti
- Set Dressing and Properties Designer: Carol Baker
- Choreographer: Rachel Leigh Dolan
- Costume Designer: Shadia Hafiz
- Costume Assistant: Brittany Harris
- Music Direction: John-Michael d’Haviland
- Hair and Make-Up Design: Craig Miller
- Stage Manager: Lauren A. Miller
- Sound Design: Jake Null
- Assistant Stage Manager: Will Pommerening
- Assistant Director: Jennifer Richter
- Properties and Set Dressing: Katrina Wiskup
- Conductor: J. Michael d’Haviland
- Keyboard: Walter McCoy
- Trumpet: Paul Weiss
- Reed I: Gwyn Jones
- Reed II: Dana Gardner
- Trombone: Ryan Shofnos
- Percussion: Matt Robotham
- Bass: Jason Wilson
Disclaimer: Keegan Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/9095.
Jacob Kresloff is a recent graduate of Guilford College with a major in Theatre Studies -- history/literature track -- and a minor in German Language and Society from Rockville, MD. He is currently pursuing his interests in dramaturgy. He is currently the dramaturg for Field Trip Theatre's workshop and staged reading of local playwright Adi Stein's The Will. He is also working on several adaptation projects. Jacob's web site