Reviews: Cabaret

regional theatre- Reprise! @ UCLA, dir. Marcia Milgrom Dodge (Fall 2011)

I've seen the film, and the 1993 Sam Mendes Donmar Warehouse production that later was adapted by Rob Marshall into the 1998 Broadway revival, but had never seen it staged before. I saw a production at Reprise! in Los Angeles, directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. It's a difficult show to extract from the Prince/Fosse shadow, and Dodge managed to not only do that but also avoided the bare 'n' raunchy staging of the Mendes/Marshall revivals of the '90s. Casting an Emcee of a very different physical type (the angular-featured, tall, atheltic-looking Bryce Ryness) than the slight and femme Joel Grey and Allan Cumming was a very shrewd choice in particular. The choreography was very '20s- Charlestons and Lindy Hops. Lisa O'Hare was a great Sally Bowles- she looks like Twiggy and sings like Glynnis Johns! Jeff McLeans (Cliff) was competent, occasionally wooden in his line-delivery. Supporting cast were all quite good, especially Mary Gordon Murray and Voyager's Robert Picardo as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.

Stagings of Cabaret today must decide what songs from the original, the film, and the revivals they will use and where. Here, "Mein Herr" was dropped and I didn't miss it, ditto with the Gratuitous German verses of "Married". "Sitting Pretty" and "Money" were performed as a medley; I would have preferred to have lost "Sitting Pretty" for time and had the original slightly slower arrangement of "So What" retained, rather than the rushed tempo used.

Dodge's most interesting choice was to change "Maybe This Time" from a Kit Kat Klub performance that comments on the action to a non-diegetic song of Sally's thoughts performed in counterpoint to Cliff's "Don't Go." It worked- in a way that was more Sondheim and less Brecht- but nonetheless it really worked for the show.

The ending of the Mendes/Marshall revivals with the Emcee in concentration camp stripes with his Jewish star and pink triangle worked pretty well for that production. This production had a similar concept- during "Wilkommen/Finale Ultimo", all the characters who are German citizens formed a snakeline in the background with their armbands of either swastika, star, or triangle. I found this a stronger directorial choice because it showed the effects of the rise of Nazism on the entire cast- and by extension, the entire population. Chilling.

Cabaret is a Terrible Movie.

All right, I probably have a lot of skewed perspective here, but I was put up to this film during an audition for Chicago, and I expected something similar to said musical. When I came in with the Emcee, whom I hated from the moment I saw him, my expectations about this film were shattered. Not in a good way. For one thing, the film has too much going on. I count at least four love stories, a Nazi evasion plot, and a segment on writing pornography. The film is a combination of too many stories, each of them good in their own right, but jammed together they simply don't work.

For another thing, the timeframe of the film keeps jumping around. It stays in 1932 throughout, or appears to anyway, but there seems to be several weeks of jumps where there is no exposition. No "Three Weeks Later" subtitle or anything else like that. You just have to infer it on your own.

Again, I hated the Emcee from the moment I saw him. His voice grated on my hearing-aid requiring ears, he looked absolutely disgusting, and every musical number except for the finale was downright terrible. Most of them seemed to come out of nowhere "Money Money" and "Two Women" being the worst offenders, in my mind.

That said, the acting and writing in this film were wonderful, as well as the finale song, Cabaret. They still don't make up for an inherently flawed film.