Darker Side of "Cabaret" Explored in Cotuit Center Production
By: Elise Hugus, August 8, 2012
ALAN TRUGMAN/CCFTA - Kai Stewart of Eastham stars as the Emcee with Marisa Lynn of Brewster as Sally Bowles in the Cotuit Center for the Arts production of "Cabaret."
Cabaret and all things vaudeville are experiencing a surge in popularity these days, no doubt driven by the bite of the Great Recession and a sense of nostalgia for the relatively innocent times of last century's economic crisis.
So it goes to follow that the Cotuit Center for the Arts would choose the 1966 hit musical Cabaret as its big summer production.
Kiley Donovan, who directed Jacques Brel is Alive and Living in Paris at CCFTA in February, is on familiar turf with this play. Again, she has transformed the theater into a cabaret, with a thrust (three-sided) stage, table seating and a bar that serves up signature drinks such as the Orange “Bowles” and Mein Herr Martini.
With the ensemble entering and exiting among the tables and a four-piece band playing in the balcony overhead, the audience becomes part of the show at the Kit Kat Klub, circa 1929 Berlin.
Life is a cabaret
The fun begins with a dance number in which the scantily clad cast struts its stuff to the lascivious opening tune “Wilkommen.” As the young American writer Cliff Bradshaw (played by Barnstable High School graduate Tom Myers) arrives in Berlin in search of inspiration for his novel, we’re introduced to the city’s cabaret scene by the smoldering Emcee, played by Kai Stewart of Eastham.
Welcomed to a ramshackle boarding house by Fraulein Schneider (Janet Constable Preston), the British cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Marisa Lynn of Brewster) quickly worms her way into his room “just for a couple days.”
Within the blink of an eye (or the swallow of “a spot of gin”), Cliff is swept up into her heady life of parties, songs and strange bedfellows—with plenty of material for a book, if only he could find the time to write.
Come to the cabaret...
CabaretCotuit Center for the Arts
4409 Falmouth Road (Route 28) Cotuit
Performances Thursday - Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday matinee at 4 PM, through August 26
Tickets are $25; $22 for seniors; $20 for members; $15 for students
The nebulous morals of the Roaring Twenties are summed up in Sally’s autobiographical “Don’t Tell Mama” and a hilariously sexy version of “Two Ladies.”
Songs like “It Couldn’t Please Me More” also tell a parallel story of innocent love blooming between Fraulein Schneider and her gentleman tenant, the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (Kempton Parker).
Yet running two and a half hours (with a 15-minute intermission), we could do without all the mushy love songs that take away from the pace and excitement of the overall production.
Wilkommen to the dark side
Not halfway into the first act, one starts to notice the Kit Kat Klub’s seedy underbelly. The girls and boys are not attractive; rather, they are made up to look raunchy, hungry and drug-addled. Bruises mark their flesh and scratches on their backs allude to what happens off-stage.
The familiar “Money Song” reveals the cabaret’s darker side, in which flesh of any gender or nationality can be bought for “a mark, a yen, a buck or a pound.” The ensemble practically spits out the lyrics with a ferocity that drives home the algebra of capitalism: if there is demand (for food), there will be a supply (for exploitation).
The theme of violence runs throughout the production, as the Nazi Party rises to power and the war drums begin a slow yet certain beat. While the initial “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is a song of hope and pride sung by blonde youths in lederhosen, the reprise at the end of Act One is a death march sung by gaunt cabaret workers and swastika-banded soldiers.
It’s the end of innocence, not only for our protagonists, but for the entire continent.
Donovan made a bold choice to choose dark violence over light-hearted sexiness in this production, but it is not always pleasant to watch. On opening night, there was an involuntary groan throughout the audience when the loose Fraulein Kost (Elin Hersch) rips off her shirt in order to taunt her landlady, Fraulein Schneider.
The shock value may have been part of the story, but it seemed gratuitous for the CCFTA crowd.
Stewart, as the Emcee, is both catlike and fierce, playing the role of both protector and pimp for the cabaret workers. He is a natural on stage, whether tap dancing in “Kick Line” or sharing a wink with the audience while moving the revolving set.
But his acting prowess really shows through in his facial gestures and delivery in “I Don’t Care Much,” a subtle protest of the Nazi’s cultural invasion. Even when he misses the high notes in “If You Could See Her,” Stewart passes it off as all part of the act. (Wink, wink.)
By contrast, Lynn doesn’t pull off the high notes, nor the humor. Perhaps she is trying to fulfill her role as a nightclub has-been who sleeps around to make gains in her career, but stage presence is lacking in this principle role.
Nonetheless, acting talent shows through as she climbs from the depths of despair to her charming old pluck with the rousing lyrics of Cabaret: “What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a Cabaret, old chum, Come to the Cabaret.”
Kudos are also due to Michael Ernst, who transforms from the kind German that Cliff meets on the train to a Nazi spy; for his part, Myers utterly embodies a naïve yet upstanding American writer who falls for the racy side of life—ready to go to bat for his morals, yet who knows when it’s time to bow out. (Anthony Teixeira will play the role of Cliff from August 16 to 26.)
Behind the scenes
Stage Manager Kelan McDonnell, set designer James Hoeck and scenic foreman Richard Archer deserve a round of applause for their innovative revolving set and use of the theater balcony, complete with a brick façade and winding wrought-iron staircase that bring another dimension to the cabaret.
Lighting designer Greg Hamm made wonderful use of the spotlight. And Shane Tyler Harris, who doubles as a cabaret boy, Bobby, did a fine job coordinating an ambitious fight scene. Choreographer Pam Willis (and the dancers) pull off several incredible feats of footwork befitting a true cabaret.