Currently playing at the Armory in Janesville, Wis., Cabaret achieves every aspect of a perfect performance. From the moment the Emcee, Scott Lilly, opens the show with a Willkommen to the final scene, where he stands in the identical spot clad as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, we witness the tragedy and historical significance of the pre-war years in Germany.
The story of two young people seeking success in Berlin becomes the center of the story. Sally Bowles (Deborah Bowman), the vocalist at the Kit Kat Club, lives every moment on the edge. In the title song, Cabaret, she recalls the fate of Elsie, who lived and died enjoying the risks and rewards. Sally emulates her in every way. Bowman gives her role complete authenticity, and her voice thrills. As Cliff Bradshaw, Martin Fox portrays the aspiring writer remarkably, and his interaction with Bowman reveals the sensitivity of first love.
Fraulein Schneider (Kerry Schneider), the sometimes irascible landlady, and Herr Schultz (Steve Zimmerman), the neighborhood fruit vendor, represent the tenuous relationships of an older generation. His Jewish roots in the dangerous atmosphere of a Nazi society pose danger to them both. Zimmerman and Schneider bring years of professional experience to the stage, and their performances and fine voices are remarkable. The ensemble of Kit Kat Girls and Boys in the outrageous costumes of the 20s and 30s is one of the best examples of talented singers and dancers in any production of Cabaret.
Speaking with Sara Cullen before the show, we learned that many of the costumes are vintage, and those designed specifically for this show are based on that era. Bowmans gown in her first scene, a gray chiffon embroidered with pearls, seems to float. Petal skirts in brilliant colors decorate the set like garden flowers.
Adding to the production is an excellent orchestra led by Musical Director Cindy Blanc. A winding staircase leads to the upper level of the stage, where the music emerges, and many of the players sing. Particularly effective is Married by KeLeen Snowgren. In a dim light, she provides a romantic background for Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz.
Although set in the turbulent times before WWII, Cabaret is not all darkness and doom. The joys of love, the comedy of Lillys Emcee, and Schneiders problems with her roomers provide some of the lighter moments. There are no flaws. Every aspect of Cabaret could not be better interpretedthe best performances Ive seen.
The Armory, a beautifully-restored facility, provides the space for fine dining, a bit of wine, and truly professional theater. Playing through May 27, Cabaret is a must-see. The short drive to Janesville on a spring evening adds to the enjoyment. For ticket information, call (608) 741-7400. The summer months include outdoor dining on the Patio and musical entertainment.
The Pirate Queen, a new musical comedy, recently opened on Broadway. Having read a book based on the life of Grace OMalley, the Irish pirate queen, I was eager to see the work. Previewing in Chicago last fall, it received mixed reviews. My personal impression… a completely original musical, beautifully costumed with striking sets and capable and talented actors. My extensive notes did not agree with the critics evaluation. In the April 22 issue of The New York Times, Campbell Robertson compared the show to the Titanic, steaming ahead in spite of the icebergs. The Pirate Queen opened on Broadway to a barrage of dismissive reviews April 5. The shows weekly gross, production officials quickly point out, grew even after the reviews.
Similar critiques on Victor, Victoria did not sink that ship, and it played to appreciative audiences for many months. Ill keep my fingers crossed for The Pirate Queen.
from the May 2-8, 2007, issue