Cabaret: A Risque Allegory

This review is written as a part of Hennepin Theatre Trust’s student reviewer program, Critical Review, by first year student, Linnea Thompson Peterson. 

How much skin do you really want to see?

That’s basically the question that will decide whether you like Theater Latté Da’s racy, well-executed Broadway Re-imagined version of “Cabaret.” The musical was one of the first “concept musicals” ever written—its allegorical and symbolic meanings are more important than its literal plot, which can make watching it more of a challenge than a theatergoer might expect. In the case of “Cabaret,” the allegory is about the way people are bystanders and ignore the evil going on around them. Unfortunately for the uptight members of the audience, this theme manifests itself in breaks from the plot to return to the Kit Kat Klub, a nightclub with only minor significance to the actual story, for many of the musical’s songs. The disruption is significant and essential to the allegory, but it still grates, especially for those uninterested in watching the club performers’ half-naked acrobatics.

Even those who blush easily will find it hard to criticize the aforementioned acrobatics, however. Michael Matthew Ferrell’s choreography is extremely physically demanding, and the actors manage not only to contort themselves into all sorts of unlikely shapes, but to do it with rhythm and synchronization, too. In the role of the emcee, Tyler Michaels mounts a trapeze and does Olympics-style stunts while hanging above the stage—and this as he sings “I Don’t Care Much,” the emcee’s final solo of the show.

Michaels certainly shines in the role of the emcee, both as an actor, because of his vocal talent and flexibility, and as an object, because he rarely takes off his sparkly, tight-fitting, never-buttoned jacket. And Michaels is not the only great actor in the cast: Kira Lace Hawkins has an excellent voice and truly embodies the character of Sally Bowles in all her carelessness, flightiness, and desperation. Likewise, Sally Wingert brings Fräulein Schneider to life with strength, sass, and a thoroughly jaded attitude.

In fact, there is only one truly inadequate performance in the bunch: Sean Dooley makes a very unconvincing Cliff Bradshaw. Cliff is a living contradiction, both circumspect and daring, pragmatic and fun loving. Dooley’s version is defined by his caution, and that makes many of Cliff’s actions implausible at best. Since Cliff is an important character—only Sally and the emcee bow after he does—Cliff’s improbability threatens to bring down the entire production.

Of course, as a concept musical, “Cabaret” is more important for the thoughts it provokes than for its acting or singing or anything else that literally happens onstage. The show is set in early-1930s-era Berlin, and it does not begin with Hitler; it begins by showing the progressive Berlin that Hitler so quickly dismantled, because—before Jews and gays and Gypsies were sent off to concentration camps—Berlin was the gay capital of the world. “Cabaret” explores how quickly and with how little resistance Berlin became unsafe for its queer community, including many of the performers and guests at the Kit Kat Klub, and for its Jews, including the awkwardly charming Herr Schultz. The near-symmetry between the show’s beginning and ending shows how easily and tragically the Berliners’ world changed: if you always leave your troubles at the door, you may someday find that they’ve let themselves in, and suddenly nothing is beautiful.

You’ll see some excellent musical theater if you come to “Cabaret.” You’ll also see naked rear ends, men in skimpy dresses, and women in imaginative underclothing. If you want to come, by all means buy yourself a ticket—but leave the kids at home and be prepared to think.

Cabaret runs though February 9, 2014. To learn more and buy tickets visit HERE.

The Critical Review program gives Metro-area high school students the opportunity to attend and review touring Broadway productions, SpotLight Musical Theatre Program events, workshops to develop writing skills, and other opportunities depending on availability. Critical Review teaches communication skills and enhances critical thinking and creative response. As part of Critical Review, students receive study guides and press kits before the show, learn from experts including local theatre critics, playwrights and actors who teach workshops in lighting design to choreography, and in some cases, have expanded access to the Broadway touring cast and crew. *Special thanks to Fred and Ann Moore for their ongoing support of the Critical Review Student Reviewer Program.

To read additional Critical Review postings visit HERE.

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