26 June 2013

This ain't your father's "Cabaret," old chum!

Regular readers of Connecticut Wit know that my preference in musicals runs Gershwin-Squared, Richard Rodgers (with Hart first then Hammerstein), Cole Porter, Cahn and Van Heusen, and the rare Sondheim (i.e., only when he's the lyricist for Jule Styne or Leonard Bernstein).  They'd also know that my preferred stage version of scandalous behavior is Pal Joey's approach to his "mice" --- to "treat a lady like a dame and a dame like a lady."   And they'd certainly be able to figure out that my musical-cum-Nazis of choice would be the one with the would-be-nun with the Viennese kids dressed in old curtains.

So how then can I give a rave review to the disturbing and erotic production of Cabaret that is playing at Playhouse on Park until July 21?
Photos by Rich Wagner
Because it's so bloody well conceived, directed, acted, sung, and danced.  Everybody involved in this production makes it work. 

Sean Harris' direction maintains the perfect balance between rousing production numbers of the Kit Kat Klub and the deadly serious social problems that rap, at first, lightly on its door, then come flying through its windows like a brick, and finally tear the place (not to mention Germany, Europe, and the world) apart. 

Colin Britt's musical direction is remarkable (yet again); his marvelously precise ensemble can raise the heat and chill to the bone in frighteningly swift succession. 

And what can be said of Darlene Zoller's choreography? In the intimate space that is Playhouse on Park's theatre, an audience member gets to know the scantily-dressed, lithe, and acrobatic chorus of dancers very well quite quickly.  Indeed, I think, after last Wednesday's performance, I'd be married to at least two of them in some southern states!
The performances are all very fine and several truly remarkable.  Brendan Norton's Emcee (above top) lords over the action like the twisted puppet-master he is -- yet with a manic energy that he somehow manages to have implode in front of us.  And while Erin Lindsey Krom's Sally Bowles and Jake Lowenthal's Cliff give us the full arc of doomed love (from naive devil-may-caring to disillusioned horror) that we expect from Cabaret, for this audience member, Kathleen Huber's Fraulein Schneider and Damian Buzzerio's Herr Schultz (seen below) take this production to a whole other level.  Huber is so natural and compelling that I have a hard time imagining her having to make her decision about marrying her Jewish suitor every night.  And if (Spoiler Alert!) you don't think a pineapple is a loving gesture after Buzzerio's ridiculously sincere gift, you have no heart. 

The production designers Erik Diaz (Scenic), Marcus Abbott (Lighting) and Erin Kacmaricik (costume) all contribute mightily to the power of the play, as well.  (But, let's face it, I haven't seen that much lingerie since I first learned about the Victoria's Secret catalogue in the 1980s.)

At times alluring, decadent, quotidian, and appalling, this superb production can't help but make us face our roles in this tragic dance.  It's not an easy night at the theatre, but you'll find few more fulfilling.

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