JWR Articles: Live Event - Cabaret (Director: Amanda Dehnert) - July 11, 2008


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A version of this review appeared in the June 26-July 2, 2008 editions of View and Echo Magazines
The saddest musical in the world
Leave your troubles outside!
So - life is disappointing? Forget it!
We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful.

If the voltage generated by the opening number (“Willkommen”) in this tale of life on the wild side preparing the world’s stage for unimaginable ethnic cleansing and the rise of pure persecution could be transferred onto a power grid, then the country’s largest province would never fear a blackout again.

However, the music, story, cast and crew (overseen by director Amanda Dehnert and put through their paces via Kelly Devine’s choreography) can’t duplicate—and barely come close—those magical moments before the final scene is, literally, unplugged.

Opening the day after “76 Trombones” marched happily into the hearts of American-musical-comedy devotees, this multi-sourced show (book by Joe Materoff, based on the play by John van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood; music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, original orchestrations by Don Walker, new orchestrations and dance arrangements by Rick Fox—who also conducts the 17-piece orchestra) lures patrons into their seats with the promise of glistening skin, sex for all persuasions, booze & drugs, but stands in its own cold shower as the Nazi card is played, trumping budding relationships, hedonism as a first principle and supplementing an English teacher’s meager income via international smuggling for thrills and illicit marks.

This show looks truly fantastic. Using real-time video (designed by Sean Nieuwenhuis) to reinforce the larger-than-life characters and speak to the latent voyeur in us all, this 1920’s saga is bridged into present-day “Facebook” et al (“show-it-all-around-the-planet”—but don’t forget to sweep the hard drive—hello there Edison Chen). Kevin Fraser’s lighting wizardry keeps the principals in the spotlight—frequently assisted by company members as they observe the proceedings from the balcony (metaphorically illuminating the action while awaiting their next cue).

David Boechler’s costumes—underwear-rich, including sparkling nipples, trapdoor pajamas, garters, boxers and jiggling bras—marvellously reinforce the anything-goes licentiousness of the whoring post-WW I Berlin.

But, yet, well, er, ahem the production can’t reignite the sensuous sizzle for two reasons:

  1. The script is a huge downer.
  2. The leads give it their all but lack the collective artistry to make (1) secondary to the song, dance and declamations before us.

Best-of-class is Bruce Dow in the delectable role of Emcee. His cheeky bend-down flash is a tad over the bottom, but Dow’s vocals, visage—cheeks of a more engaging kind—and sassy ring-leader abilities keep the action moving steadily forward.

On the other hand, Sean Arbuckle’s Clifford Bradshaw is too-earnest-by-half as the American newcomer who is supposed to play both sides of the girl/boy street; he can’t find the requisite innuendo to move beyond breeder status. His songs work but never soar.

Trish Lindström as Sally Bowles, Cliff’s main love interest (Bobby—Paul Nolan—takes a back seat compared to the 1972 film version) turns in a commendable performance—nailing “Cabaret”—the only song other than “Willkommen” to stick in the craw. Now, if she can move up from wide-eyed sexy to killer-glance sultry then another hurdle on the path to excellence will have been cleared.

Ever-dependable Nora McLellan—despite an on-again/off-again accent—crafts a Fräulein Schneider who can endure the frequent-flyer visits of leading semen (a.k.a. “nephews”) to her hooker-tenant (Diana Coatsworth) and truly loves Herr Schultz (Frank Moore: A+ acting; C+ singing). Yet when all is sung and done, Schneider is a German first (and longtime survivor).

Ernst Ludwig (Cory O’Brien) wears his swastika like a Boy Scout merit badge rather than a proud symbol of his superiority. Difficult to portray, perhaps O’Brien’s reticence to savour laying the seeds for the horrors to come personifies why this show can’t shoot up to the rafters of debauchery and manic mayhem, but rather sinks to the depths of despair in the race that’s meant to be human.

No use permitting
some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!

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Playwright - John van Druten
Book - Joe Masteroff
Director - Amanda Dehnert
Choreographer - Kelly Devine
Music - John Kander
Based on short stories by - Christopher Isherwood
Lyricist - Fred Ebb
Set Designer - Paul Paraschuk
Lighting Designer - Kevin Fraser
Costume Designer - David Boechler
Fight Director - John Stead
Sound Designer - Jim Neil
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
Stratford Festival
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