Saturday, September 17, 2005

Cabaret (Kalliope Stage)

Kalliope’s ‘Cabaret’ pulls out all the stops!

Christopher Isherwood, an American writer, lived in Germany from 1929 to 1933. He witnessed, first hand, the social and political changes that would soon explode into the rise of Hitler, the second world war, the destruction of 6 million Jews and many thousands of homosexuals. He turned his observations into the book ‘BERLIN STORIES,’ which was transformed into the play ‘I AM A CAMERA.’ This, in turn, not only became the musical ‘CABARET,’ one of the longest running shows on Broadway, and but an award-winning movie. The stage version of “CABARET’ is being produced at Kalliope Stage.

The original musical production, with book by Joe Masteroff, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and music by John Kander, opened on Broadway in 1966 and starred Clevelander Joel Gray as the Emcee It used a classical writing and staging method developed by Bertolt Brecht which included historification, alienation and epic. Historification concerns placing a play in a specific era, but making the audience aware that they could apply the lessons learned to modern day. Alienation forces the audience to know they are in a theatre by suspending the lights and creating settings that don’t depict exact reality. Epic centers on making the production grand, bigger than life, bigger than that on stage thus encouraging the viewer to examine the world around himself/herself. In the original production, a large convex mirror greeted theatre-goers and reflected each of them in grotesque shapes they proceeded to their seats. The Emcee spoke to the audience and cast members went out into the audience.

The 1987 Broadway revival kept that same style. In 1998 the show took on a new sheen and became one of even more decadence. It stressed the homoerotic nature of the era and the Emcee, portrayed by Alan Cumming, became a sensual gay symbol. This extended the story beyond just the impending persecution of the Jews, but that of homosexuals as well.

On the surface the story is about Clifford Bradshaw (Isherwood’s alter-self). After finding housing, Cliff visits the sleazy Kit Kat Club and meets English singer, Sally Bowles. Though Cliff is gay, the writer and singer soon fall in love. Meanwhile, Clifford's elderly landlord, Fraulein Schneider, gets engaged to a Jewish greengrocer, Herr Schultz – not an easy decision given the increasing influence of the Nazis. Clifford discovers that he has been inadvertently helping the Nazis by delivering packages to Paris for a German friend. He decides to return to the United States but Sally, after aborting a baby, remains in Berlin. The story’s implications go well beyond the basic story.

Kalliope Stage’s production is both exciting and disturbing. It is engrossing and off-putting. At times it is brilliant and at other times amateurish.

Director Paul Gurgol pulls out all the stops. This production is not for prudes. There is female nudity, males often appear in leather thongs and assorted revealing garments. The language is in-your face. There is simulated Sadomasochism and blunt revelation of Hitler’s march to power. This is a show and production which flaunts decadence, titillation, and vulgarity.

The power of the production, especially the very final scene (a brilliant concept by Gurgol), overshadows much of the performance’s inconsistencies.

Jodi Brinkman is quite good as Sally. Her voice is strong, her acting good. Unfortunately, there is little emotional connection with Rick Hamilton (Cliff) and that diminishes her characterization. Her “Maybe This Time” is beautifully performed.

Rick Hamilton doesn’t quite convince as Cliff. His characterization stays much on the surface, his singing voice is acceptable.

Jay Strauss (Herr Schultz) and Kathleen Huber (Fr. Schneider) are both excellent in voice and character development. Huber’s “What Would You Do?” is poignant.

Kimberly Koljat (Rosie) and Katherine DeBoer (Lulu) are delightful in the song and dance number “Two Ladies.”

Joseph Haladey III almost steals the show as Hans, a clown character. He makes the final scene of the show chilling.

John Paul Boukis tries hard in the role of the Emcee. He simply does not have the sensuality to pull off the role as needed for this interpretation. Also, and this is Gurgol’s fault, not that of Boukis, the power of the Emcee being dragged off stage near the conclusion of the show is diminished since most of the audience was unaware this was done because he was gay. The wearing of a pink triangle could have increased this awareness.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Kalliope Stage’s ‘CABARET’ lets out all the stops. It is a show worth seeing for those who are amenable to have their senses assaulted and are willing to put up with some of the production’s inconsistencies.

PS...There is excessive smoking in this production. Due to the closeness of the audience to the performance area this can cause allergic reactions.