Monday, January 28, 2013

"Cabaret" at Bloomington Civic Theatre

This is the third local production I've seen of Cabaret in the last two years (the others were by Frank Theatre and Lyric Arts), and I couldn't be happier about the repetition. I love Cabaret because it's wildly entertaining and fun, featuring a fabulous Kander and Ebb score, but has a dark undercurrent of the impending doom that is the Nazi party coming to power in 1930s Germany. It's a fun musical that also has depth. Cabaret is all about living this crazy life to the fullest, because it could be gone tomorrow. Director and choreographer Joe Chvala writes in the program, "our production celebrates the resistance to tyranny and the desire to be open to life's strange, wonderful and all-too-quickly-gone beauty." In this colorful production with an expansive and energetic cast, a full musical sound, several big dance numbers, and an incredible set, that objective is decidedly accomplished.

A few things noteworthy things about the show:

  • The Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub serves as the audience's guide to this world, and Joey Clark smoothly steps into the role after playing a Cabaret boy in  Frank Theatre's magnificent production two years ago. He's an approachable and entertaining host (and also appropriately hosted the post-show talk-back on the day I attended).
  • BCT newcomer Abby Desanto is a delightful Sally Bowles, full of life and passion. Bryan Porter is completely genuine in his portrayal of Cliff, and makes him relatable and sympathetic. Both have pleasant voices, and they share a believable chemistry.
  • Due to a very last-minute illness, Colleen Somerville heroically stepped into the role of Fraulein Schneider and performed beautifully. She had a script in front of her for several scenes and a few songs, and though the words might not have always been on the tip of her tongue, that didn't stop her from conveying the complex emotions of the character. Kudos to the entire cast and crew who scrambled to make the necessary changes to accommodate the illness, and managed to make all look effortless.
  • This may be the most remarkable set of all the remarkable sets I've seen at BCT (by resident set designer Robin McIntyre). Huge moving parts that represent the exterior and interior of dingy city buildings, with the names of real Berlin nightclubs adorning the walls in lights (Cozy Corner, Resi, Eldorado, Stork's Nest, Monikel). It's a nice touch of reality and an homage to that crazy beautiful city of Berlin.
  • This production is a little bit cleaner and tamer than others I've seen and heard, but that's understandable considering the suburban community theater audience. Joey explained in the talk-back that it's just, well, different than what you might see in New York City or even Minneapolis. I get that and respect it; what's most important is that the intent of the piece remains intact.
  • This seems to be much closer to the original 1966 Broadway production rather than the 1972 movie or the 1998 revival (the soundtrack I'm familiar with), so don't expect to hear "Maybe This Time" or "Money." But we do get the fun "Telephone Song" and the sweet love song "Why Should I Wake Up."
  • While I missed the onstage band ("even the orchestra is bee-utiful!"), I can't really argue with a 20-piece pit orchestra and the full sound it gives. Musical Director Anita Ruth has taken a much-deserved vacation and seamlessly handed the baton to Eric Sayre, and while hidden the pit, they do indeed sound "bee-utiful!"
  • Last but definitely not least, Joe Chvala has choreographed some pretty spectacular dance numbers, including a kickline, party scenes, and a dancing gorilla. And the talented ensemble pulls it off (seemingly) effortlessly.

At the beginning of Cabaret, the Emcee invites the audience to "leave your troubles outside" and enter the world of the Kit Kat Klub for a few hours. It's an excellent suggestion and a wonderful place to do just that; in fact, it may even get you thinking about troubles much larger than your own. (Playing now through February 17.)