Most of us have seen Bob Fosse’s film version of Cabaret. But if you’ve never seen the original stage version, or one of the many revivals of it, you’re missing out on the raw brilliance of the story, which is set in 1930 Berlin as the Nazi Party began to rise.
The show takes place mostly in a seedy cabaret, the Kit Kat Klub, where patrons are seduced into leaving their troubles and cares outside and enter into a glitzy world of decadence and sexual ambiguity. But juxtaposed with the carefree party life is the reality of pre-war Germany’s dark economic conditions and the swelling wave of anti-Semitism.
Clifford Bradshaw (T.J. Hamilton) is on a train, heading to Berlin to write his novel when he meets Ernst Ludwig (Paul Merck), who recommends a boarding house run by the matronly but sweet spinster, Fräulein Schneider (the inimitable Mary Tuck). Cliff heads off to the Kit Kat Klub, where he’s smitten by the cabaret’s star performer, the racy Sally Bowles (Allison Drucker), who appears equally as enthralled but has to deal with her overly jealous boyfriend, Max (Drew Stichter), who owns the Klub.
Ever-present throughout the show is the Klub’s spectacular master of ceremonies (Daniel Benoit), portrayed as an omni-sexual, effusive character with hints of circus who orchestrates the audience.
When Max fires Sally and tosses her out to the street, she convinces Cliff that she should live with him. The two fall in love. Sally announces she is pregnant, although she’s not sure who the father is. Cliff is sure they could raise the baby and live happily ever after.
Meanwhile, back at the boarding house, the Jewish shop owner, Herr Schultz (Joe Walker), is wooing Fräulein Schneider, bringing her much-sought fresh fruit daily. The two finally decide to marry and an engagement party ensues, but a shadow is cast on their joy when Ernst Ludwig tells Fräulein Schneider that she should reconsider her marriage to a Jew. The Aryan overtones become more prominent as Cliff arrives from his trip to Paris as a paid courier, not knowing he is delivering a suitcase full of funding for Ernst’s political cause, the Nazis.
There is a tremendously disturbing moment back at the Kit Kat Klub, when the emcee sings a song of love (If You Could See Her) with a gorilla in a tutu (Barron Farnell), where he proclaims the unjustness of a world passing judgment on their love and how people should be less biased. The song is hilarious, a comedy as the two waltz around the stage, until that last line when the audience is shocked into realizing the true prejudice: “…If you could see her through my eyes… she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.”
As the whirlpool spins tighter, both Sally and Herr Schultz ignore the ominous signs of what is to come. Sally feels the politics have nothing to do with them or their affairs, as she still seeks the cabaret life and Herr Schultz downplays a brick, with the Star of David emblazoned on it, thrown through his window.
In his lovesick delusion, Cliff tells Sally he is taking her out of Berlin and back to Paris where they can raise their baby. Sally responds by getting an abortion and going back to her burlesque life at the Klub. Heartbroken, Cliff leaves for Paris, beginning his novel en route on the train. He writes, “There was a cabaret, and there was a Master of Ceremonies… and there was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany …and it was the end of the world.”
The Crested Butte Mountain Theatre’s production of Cabaret captures both sides of the squalid pre war Germany from the glorious eye-bedazzling musical numbers to the dingy boarding house life. More than entertaining with its mostly upbeat songs and well choreographed dancing (thanks to choreographer Tarah Niccoli of the Ruby Blue Syndicate, who gives the show its footing continuity and spunk), is the thought-provoking and harsh theme of racism and the anti-Semitism that was Nazi Germany, coupled with the very liberal sexuality and joie de vivre that somehow accompanied it.
The Mountain Theatre’s actors have pulled off an amazing feat in their art and their dancing, and the excellent live orchestra is a tremendous asset and talent, under the direction of Sean Warren Stone, who looks lovely in an evening gown. Well done.
Let’s get right to the point—Allison Drucker couldn’t have been more perfect in her role as Sally, going from real-life motherhood to floozy with aplomb and charisma. A beautiful voice, a dynamic performance. Brava.
A virgin to the Mountain Theatre stage, T.J. Hamilton is a wonderful addition who pulls off a multifaceted Cliff—and he can sing, too. We hope to see him in many more productions.
Of all the characters, the most intriguing is surely the emcee of the Klub. Daniel Benoit: You captivated, you nailed it. You made us love you in all your tantalizing seductions.
Paul Merck—you scoundrel—you play the part so well and were overheard remarking, “Give me a bad guy role and a good hat.” Indeed.
Mary Tuck—we don’t often see you in a serious role, being the queen of comedy that you are, but you pushed the envelope—right over the cliff—as the very moving Fräulein Schneider as she decides she cannot marry the Jew she loves, as she copes with boarding house woes and growing old alone. Who knew you could sing with such force and conviction?
Joe Walker did a fabulous job of channeling a nice Jewish man who sells fruit, a lonely old man in love… it seemed so natural that it must have been a past life of yours.
Emily Kurland plays Fräulein Kost, a prostitute at the boarding house with a penchant for sailors. Although she plays one of the side characters, Emily (recently relocated from NYC) made the persona much larger. It will be a joy to watch her in upcoming productions.
Barron Farnell, you played so many parts it’s impossible to know which one to start with, but you were flawless in all of them, and you even made a gorilla in a tutu look gracefully gorgeous.
From the chorus of dancers, to the backstage techs, from lighting and set design (Scott Little) to costuming (Billie Gross), Cabaret is a classy, well-directed show thanks to managing artistic director Harry Woods, who also directed this play.
Harry’s vision to stage Cabaret at the Mallardi Cabaret was well founded. The show had been produced in the very same theatre in 1982. The present stage configuration is a far better design for the kick dancers and the flow of the story, to the benefit of the audience. Harry says, “Cabaret has been one of the most exciting musicals to produce or direct. It is full of challenging dance numbers, interesting love relationships, beautiful music and lyrics, and it is set in a time when the world was about to experience one of the darkest moments in its history.”
Make your reservations immediately because this production will most likely sell out for its remaining week. It’s a brilliantly inventive and moving production with Crested Butte’s finest thespians and theatre people, who are surprisingly top notch for such a small community.
For reservations call the theatre at (970) 340-0366. Or get them online at cbmountaintheatre.org. The Mallardi Cabaret (transformed into the Kit Kat Klub) is located on 2nd off Elk, upstairs at the Old Town Hall bus stop.
Remaining shows are July 30 through August 4. Doors at 7 p.m. Curtain at 7:30 p.m. Matinees: doors open at 3:30 p.m. Curtain at 4 p.m. Tickets: $25 adults, $15 youth.