Monday, January 20, 2014

Run to see "Cabaret"

Peter Rothstein's magnificent adaptation of the classic musical is a must-see show. 

Credit: Hennepin Theater Trust
How would you behave if the world was ending? 

The question may seem silly or extreme, but it was a real one facing Germans as they neared the end of the Depression, the rise of Hitler, and headed towards another (but unthinkable) world war. Their answer was often to live brashly and vivaciously, as told magnificently through art, theater, and film. 

Sandwiched between two world wars, Weimar Germany is often forgotten in history lessons that focus on the American experience of the great Depression - which is a pity, considering how rich and utterly unique a subject it is. Thankfully, the world of music theater remembers.

Cabaret is a complex, fascinating snapshot of life in Berlin in late Weimar Germany, where sex and politics were boiling in every crevice of the city. Led by a clownish Emcee, the audience creeps through Berlin's seedy underbelly as we follow Clifford Bradshaw (Sean Dooley), an aspiring American author who lands at the Kitty Kat Club in the middle of this turbulent environment. Cliff engages in a doomed relationship with nightclub performer Sally Bowles and unhappily witnesses the rise of Nazism before returning to America. It's a sad story, although true (at least in its larger political details), and an enlightening exploration of human nature.

Credit: Hennepin Theater Trust
Tyler Daniels (last seen stealing the show as Fyedka in Fiddler on the Roof at Chanhassen) is dynamite as the Emcee, finally starring in a role that can display his incredible talent (as a notable aside: you can understand every. single. word. that he sings). As usual, Daniels' voice is gorgeous, lubing up the audience to allow the final harsh realities of the show to make a softer landing. He's particularly good in the show's best number "I Don't Care Much," in which he slithers through the song while performing acrobatics on a swing flying above the tense and violent action on stage below him. Daniels takes his time through every scene, making the high paced action feel as if it's just another stroll in the park. He makes it look easy, and every moment is sinfully delicious. 

The rest of the cast are no schlumps, either. Kira Lace Hawkins lends a Chicago-an Catherine Zeta
Credit: Hennepin Theater Trust
Jones flavor to Sally Bowles, with a riotous voice and saucy British humor. She's delightful and a perfect fit. Veteran Sally Wingert is excellent as Fraulein Schneider, and although her singing never quite catches up to the rest of the cast, she is the solid moral ground that the show stands on. James Michael Detmar is heartrendingly winning as Herr Schultz and a wonderfully hopeful foil to Wingert's realistic pessimism.

Rothstein's direction is precise yet expansive, with the show clipping along at a little over two hours (not including intermission) yet never feeling hurried. In fact, that is probably one of the most remarkable elements of this Cabaret; with the enormous range in musical numbers, costume changes, plot twists, and so on, it never once feels rushed, instead letting the audience luxuriate in the complex incongruity that the world of Weimar cabaret requires.

The set is lovely, equal parts Moulin Rouge and Chicago, and it's used acrobatically to great effect. It helps that this production is in the Pantages, a spectacularly gorgeous theater that was used for vaudeville and closed in 1930 as the world of cinema swept the country (don't worry; it was beautifully renovated in 2002 and is worth the trip alone). Costumes are changed constantly and are about as suggestive as it gets (if you're not a fan of unconcealed ass or the bra-less, this is not for you), lending a necessary flash of color to the otherwise muted set. Mention must also be made of the superb lighting, which made the stage appear water-colored at all times.

Since seeing is believing, I encourage you to check out either of the Hennepin Theater Trust's great videos behind the scenes as Cabaret was rehearsed. This one features Micheals:

Cabaret is equal parts campy hilarity and heart-tugging realism, and absolutely a theatrical highlight of 2014. Be sure to check it out (it runs through Feburary 9); more information can be found by clicking on this link.