Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Cabaret": Solid production (not much sex appeal)

Brian Earp and Billie Wildrick in Cabaret (Mark Kitaoka)

Issaquah: Through  July 3, 2015
Everett: July 10-August 2, 2015

Village Theatre is mounting a classic musical, Cabaret, by Joe Masteroff, and music writing team of Kander and Ebb. You probably know a good many of the songs, though perhaps not the context, unless you’ve seen the movie from 1972 starring Liza Minelli. Songs include: Willkommen, Don’t Tell Mama, and Cabaret.

The story focuses on a pre-war Berlin, where the Nazi Party is beginning to gain power, yet clubs with gay performers and employees were still flourishing openly, and Jews were being harassed, yet their businesses not completely destroyed. Cliff Bradshaw (Brian Earp), an American writer, visits Berlin and gets drawn in to one such club, the Kit Kat, where he meets British performer Sally Bowles (Billie Wildrick).
Sally is an unrepentant flirt, moving in with and out from different men in the span of a week. She gloms onto Cliff, who finds himself falling in love with her. Her history gives away the ending, and he is destined not to succeed with her.

The cabaret and its inhabitants, and the roomers in the nearby residence, become engulfed in the growing threat of violence. A subplot with the rooming house owner, Fraulein Schneider (Anne Allgood) who falls in love with the Jewish fruit vendor (Peter Crook) shows the growing anti-Semitism, as well. Their marriage is doomed by the disapproval of the Nazis.

So, this is not a “feel good” musical, in terms of upbeat storytelling. However, those songs are amazing and iconic at this point.

The production is helmed by Brian Yorkey, back from NYC to his long-time theater home, at least for a few months. The visuals of the production are solid and the casting is also solid. Matthew Smucker’s set design, including starting from a decrepit-looking long-unused space, back to the glory days of the cabaret, is a fun transition to watch.

Just about the best aspect of the production is the small, but vigorous band that plays all the music and occasionally appears on stage being pushed forward and backward on a moving platform. Led by music director Tim Symons, the players include flugelhorn and accordion in their repertoire. They have all the oompah-pah they need!

A major character is a mysterious master of ceremonies (Jason Collins) who is supposed to represent the decadence of the age, and the cabaret performers, the Kit Kat club dancers contribute more of that atmosphere. In this production, though, there is a basic lack of tension. Everyone does what he or she should, but it’s not with pizzazz or snap or crackle.

Alex Jaeger’s costume design for the dancers is completely devoid of sex-appeal. In fact, they are covered from head to toe! The choreography by Kathryn van Meter is generally as expected, but I’ve seen other shows from her where the dancing is amazing and clearly an important draw. Here, not quite so much.

The leads, especially Wildrick and Allgood, are terrific. Both of them are in great voice, and both bring out all the emotions of their characters. Earp takes an almost thrown away character and makes him matter. I just wish he had more opportunity to sing, since he has a wonderful voice.

While hoping for an exciting production, as Village is often capable of, this one gets written down as a solid B effort. If you’ve never seen it on stage, you’ll enjoy a lot of aspects, but you’ll never get titillated, which is kind of too bad.

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