Because one couple of our Friends and Fridays group are media sponsors for the Tacoma Little Theatre (Donn and Debbie Irwin, immedia) they rounded up a passel of available friends to go see Cabaret Friday. (Not that Don and I wouldn’t have gone anyway. It’s just more fun with a gaggle of friends.)
Interestingly enough, John Munn, artistic director of the Lakewood Playhouse, is the director of this TLT production as part of the Director’s Exchange Program. He did a great job with the actors, the pacing and the rampant emotions. He was ably assisted by music director Pamela Merritt Caldwell and choreographer Lexi Barnett. Thank you all.
Although I’ve seen Cabaret before at the 5th Avenue, that was in 2008. It still lives in my memory as a wonderful production, poignant and hopelessly hopeful in the face of reality.
In Berlin in 1931, the Nazis were gaining momentum but had not yet taken over the country’s government. Germany's post war depression lasted for more than a decade and there were still soup lines in 1931. Berlin was an international capitol and, as such, had a seedy nightlife with participants who would later be largely declared decadents and undesirables. Thus, they are fodder for the slave factories and an inevitable death when too sick, weak or ill to be productive, if they weren't killed outright.
"Arbeit macht frei" is a German phrase meaning "work makes (you) free" and was tauntingly inscribed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps during World War II. The Nazis had a final solution for almost every character in Cabaret.
The Emcee (masterfully played by Mauro Bozzo) of the Kit Kat Klub opens the show with “Wilkommen”, and an introduction to the morally doubtful entertainers. From gestures and sexual pantomimes to outright comments and lyrics, we get a glimpse of what the Kit Kat Klub has to offer (I like the KKK aliteration and the foreshadowing of intollerance) . . . and it is not something that Martin Luther would have recommended. Tables had telephones where you could make calls across the room to make dates before, during, and after the performances and entertainment. Two's company and three's an adult movie.
The chorus girls deserve special praise: LaNita Hudson, Haley Kim, Kathy Kluska, and Amanda Jackson - scantily clad and constantly fondled by the Emcee they did a great job. Kathy Kluska even did a nice soft shoe in a gorilla costume.
The second scene opens with an American author Clifford Bradshaw (Niclas R. Olson) on a train to Berlin o finish his second novel after an unfruitful time in London and Paris. On board he meets a likable German man Ernst Ludwig (Kyle Sinclair), also traveling to the capitol city. When the authorities come to check on passports, visas and packages, Ernst slips hi briefcase under Cliff’s seat. Cliff lets it pass and Ernst is grateful, saying that he can find a job for Cliff going between Paris and Berlin, very easy, very well paid. Cliff demurs and Ernst promised to help him find a room, an inexpensive room - all that Cliff can afford. One of our friends who joined us for the evening had also played the part of Ludwig in a Gig Harbor production of Cabaret.
After Cliff’s installed in Fraulein Schneider’s (Rosalie Hilburn) rooming house, Ernst takes him to the Kit Kat Klub, one of many rundown clubs in a dubious part of the city, most likely with suspicious smells.
Cliff is immediately smitten with Sally Bowles (the great Elise Campello) as she sings “Don’t Tell Mama”, a sly reminder to turn a blind eye to whatever she’s doing.
After her number Sally sits at one of the tables and phones Cliff’s table. They agree to meet, Cliff’s first step to love and the inevitable slide to despair. Soon, Sally is manipulating Cliff and his landlady to allow her to move in with Cliff. She’d been fired by the Kit Kat manager Max (Jeremy Thompson) because he needs a
We first saw Elise Campello in the Harlequin production of Sixties Chicks back in 2009. It was a fantastic production. She is always a delight.
The secondary plot is Fraulein Schneider’s (played by Rosalie Hillburn) growing tenderness for Herr Schultz (played by Joseph Grant), a Jewish fruit seller. As the relationship matures, he brings her a pineapple, a luxury that she’d never hoped to see again. They agree to become engaged and set a celebration party date.
The plot turns on the actions and musical numbers of the loving couple. Even though we know that there is no way they can get married and live a normal life, the audience is pulling for Schultz with his gifts of fruit.
The songs they sing are pretty much minor key, which only adds to our discomfort. We know they are bound for disaster and we watch it start to unravel. The audience loves them.
Another of Fraulein’s boarders is Fraulein Kost (Rachel Fitzgerld), a very buxom slut that brings one,or two, or more sailors to her rooms on every occasion. She threatens to move out if Fraulein keeps her sailors from her, because she wouldn’t have enough money to pay her rent. Detente ensues.
At the engagement party, some of their friends show their true colors - Nazi armbands - as they sing a rousing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, very stirring when sung, yet it creates a clear picture of what's to come.
And that’s the end of the first act – a full setup of the inevitable chaos and war. The next act resolves, not happily, the story.
Michele Graves, the resident costume designer, made some very fine choices for the characters. The Emcee is dressed in a formal dark grey or black suit of tails, with a red bowtie, red pocket handkerchief, and red spats. Very dapper. Sally Bowles’s “dress” for much of the show is a slinky, well fitted mid-calf slip – very beautiful. Cliff is dressed in mid-West American normal, appropriatly boring. Fraulein Kost is in a ridiculous very short blond curly-curly wig that stts on the top of her head and her hot pink strapless slip is an atrocity – very appropriate for her aspirations. Fraulein Schnieder’s dressed in conservative wool skirts and blouses, a look back at her prosperous past. The Kit Kat boys and girls are in various stages of underwear – descriptive of their jobs.
The music is beautiful – stirring, hopeful, yearning to be free, poignant, but ultimately, very sad.
Our friend Donna sent an email Saturday morning that she had stayed up late watching YouTube videos of Joel Grey and Liza Minelli performing selections from Cabaret. Vickie stayed up late ro watch the original Grey-Minelli movie. Don replied with his favorite clip of "Maybe This Time." He sometimes plays the tune on our baby grand when he's in a sad mood. The clip, however is from Glee and features April Rhodes and Broadway super star Kristin Chenoweth.
In the TLT production "Maybe This Time" was performed by Elise Campello. It was worth the price of admission . . . you could feel the angst and pain, and mornfull longing that gave a glimmer of optimism and expectation which you knew would be crushed time after time.
"Cabaret" runs through June 14, with 7:30 performances on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2. Call the box office at 253-272-2281 for information and tickets. Check out their website tacomalittletheatre.com for the upcoming 97th season.