Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
And that's what the Kit Kat Klub in Musical Theatre Southwest's Cabaret reminds me of–this collection of restless bohemian dreamers and social misfits, frantically clutching at imaginary choices, desperately battling the inevitable.
Delightfully bawdy, decadent and hedonistic, this is a marvelous version–a la Alan Cummings–of Cabaret, featuring music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff. And from the introductory number "Willkommen" to the finale, we are warmly welcomed to their magnificent world of music, song and dance. MTS puts on wonderfully intimate shows, always with of top-notch musicians and exceptional troupes. Director Theresa A. Carson, music director Joel Gelpe, choreographer Lou Becker, and stage manager Vicki Singer, must have had a great time working with such a remarkable company, and the company does them proud. The results speak for themselves–opening weekend sold out far in advance, this weekend looking the same, always good indicators of yet another deservedly sold-out run.
Our brazen and impudent Emcee (Jason Roman) of this second or maybe third-rate cabaret lounge is provocatively garbed yet ultimately charming. With his wonderful singing voice, he seems to be everywhere, observing, participating, and in the end, all knowing. The Kit Kat Klub dancers vigorously entertain us, their corseted twerking eliciting cat-calls from opening night's very enthusiastic audience.
We meet Sally Bowles (Stevie Nichols), a glamorous (nothing looks seedy if you're far enough away), supposedly second-rate singer, the self-styled main draw of the club. She doesn't know it yet, but her future lover, American tourist Clifford, (his character based on the author himself, played here by Andy Boehnlein) has just arrived at a local boarding house, one recommended by a fellow traveler on his train. He is, at this moment, haggling with his potential landlady over rent. In 1931 Germany, war reparations had plunged the country into a depression, so innkeeper Fraulein Schneider (Layle Oliver) knows every mark is worth negotiating. Another tenant, Fraulein Kost (Christy Burbank) appears, and it is this young woman's behavior that makes us realize the not-so-genteel poverty in which they all live. Kost has a highly amusing, probably illegal, but ultimately practical outlook on life. The only other occupant, the gentle Herr Schultz (Douglas Vanderwinkle), a grocer and Fraulein Schneider's love interest, comes by, inviting her to celebrate the new year with him. The stage is now set, literally as well as metaphorically.
Transported back to the Kit Kat Klub to hear Sally sing for the first time, I realize Stevie Nichols does not have a second-rate voice. Neither did Liza Minnelli in the 1972 movie, but I bet whoever the inspiration was for the real Sally Bowles sounded like a scalded cat, or Christopher Isherwood wouldn't have emphasized it in his 1939 book, "Goodbye to Berlin". (John Van Druten used the book as the basis for his play I Am a Camera, which in turn was the basis for Cabaret the musical). Sally's number "Don't Tell Mama" indicates she is less confident and not as saucy as she appears. But then, when fired from the Kit Kat Klub and arriving at Cliff's lodgings, begging to share his room, her pitiful demeanor undergoes a radical change as she negotiates the rent increase with Fraulein Schneider. Poor Sally, the manipulative little vixen.
Cabaret is timeless. And that's why, as various interpretations are created, the underlying message is always the same. Apathy, and our unwillingness to believe that what we don't want to happen can happen, regardless of our mindset, is what makes Cabaret so heartbreaking. Nevertheless, life goes on in our little corner of Germany, even as the building blocks of destruction are quietly laid in place. The tragedy of this play is that everything is great until it isn't, and by then it's too late to divert the river.
In a delightful scene, and with a lovely onstage rapport, Layle Oliver's Fraulein Schneider becomes engaged to tenant Herr Schultz. The last play I saw Oliver was in The Women of Lockerbie, where she sported a perfect Scottish accent. This time she, along with her beautiful singing voice and great comedic timing, nails the German accent. Accompanied by the all-seeing but undetectable Emcee, both betrothed delight us with "It couldn't please me more."
So much goes on in this musical, and I don't want to ruin it with spoilers, but the first act is beautiful and poignant and so full of joy for the future–so many oblivious people, until reality, in the shape of a boy singer with a swastika on his armband singing the soon to be ominous "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" heralds a new morality. Friendship between Cliff and Ernst (David Bryant) now wanes as other alliances form. Cliff, not as enmeshed in this world as the others, begins to sense danger (I'm sure those three Ks in the club's name are just a coincidence, and not a portent). The wonderful rendition of "Money" by the Kit Kat dancers and the Emcee tells of priorities, but his second act "If You Could See Her" speaks of a caring, compassionate philosophy with genuinely appreciative values.
And whether fear or a reluctance to disturb a still tolerable situation is the reason for the behavior of the majority, we, the onlookers, are helpless as we foresee their terrible destiny.
You will love this production. Without exception–even the band have their solos–we enjoy truly delightful performances from everyone who graces the stage. And to those who created that stage as well as the unseen who bring us lights, sound, costuming, and all the background and backstage work, without whom the show could not go on: very, very, well done. It is (as always) another beautiful and thoughtful show. Don't miss it–though you better book your tickets now.
Cabaret runs through April 1, 2023, at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo Rd NE One block east of San Pedro, two blocks north of Central, Ste B, Albuquerque NM, Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, please visit www.mtsabq.org or call 505-265-9119.