"Life is a Cabaret"...

The Old Globe in Association with Asolo Repertory Presents a Bold, Very Theatrical Take on the Classic Musical 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The cast of CABARET - photo by Jim Cox.
I consider it important to frequently point out in my reviews how valuable it is to have the classics produced by the local theatre companies in San Diego, for all who want to relive the moment or ones who did not have the opportunity to catch it. I also wonder if theatres communicate with each other ...  This all came to mind because, around this time last year, Cygnet Theatre brought back their 2011 production of Cabaret which was bold and sensual. 

In these survival mode times for the performing arts, The Old Globe has been practicing new production models incorporating touring shows into their season and it has worked well bringing new audiences and a fresh feel. In this case with Cabaret, the presentation is in association with the Asolo Repertory Theatre Company in Florida.

Bruce Sabath as Herr Schultz and Kelly Lester as Fraulein Schneider. Photo by Jim Cox

There are three versions of Cabaret available for licensing. The twists and turns have to do with the songs, the Emcee, and how daring and raw the topics within the cabaret are. As Barry Edelstein, The Globe's artistic director points out in his welcoming letter inside the program, this production is nearly sixty years old. An adaptation of the 1945 novel The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, the play by John Van Druten, featuring music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Joe Masteroff. This staging is directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes, and like Barry said hitting the nail on the head, seizes on the tension between form and content. I had the opportunity to work on the Broadway touring production of Cabaret in its stop through San Diego in 2016, had seen the Mexico City version with Chantal Andere as Sally Bowles ten years prior, and Cygnet's last year. I can tell you, that all of them have been different. But this one has been the boldest most raw of them all. The fact that it keeps resonating is both a good and a bad thing. 

The story set in 1930s Berlin, against the backdrop of the rising Nazi regime, revolves around the Kit Kat Klub, a decadent cabaret club, and follows the intertwined lives of its performers and patrons. Clifford Bradshaw, a young American writer played by Alan Chandler, arrives in Berlin seeking inspiration for his novel. He becomes enamored with the vivacious English cabaret performer Sally Bowles, portrayed by Joanna A. Jones. As their relationship develops, it navigates the complexities of love, desire, and the changing political climate. The enigmatic Master of Ceremonies, played by Lincoln Clauss, serves as the guide and narrator, providing a surreal and satirical perspective on the events unfolding in the club and the city. Other notable characters include Ernst Ludwig played by Alex Gibson, Fraulein Schneider played by Kelly Lester, and Herr Schultz played by Bruce Sabath who bring a dynamic energy to their respective roles, leaving a lasting impact on the audience. My heart always melts for Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Chandler and Joanna make a good creative duo and through Rhodes's direction, I believe they bring out qualities and flaws in Cliff and Sally that have not been explored that much in other productions. This felt more theatrical, more straight play, than a musical. It takes its time and flows leaving space for difficult conversations.

Joanna A. Jones and Alan Chandler. Photo Jim Cox

Still, the musical numbers are captivating with energetic dance routines. The stage was transformed into a mesmerizing world of black and gold. The two-story set, complemented by cabaret tables among the audience, created an immersive experience that made us feel like we were part of the decadent nightlife of Berlin. The beautiful wardrobe added a visual feast to the production. Each costume captured the essence of the era and the characters' personalities. 

The ensemble cast, meticulously choreographed and directed, delivered a bold performance through their collective energy that made the theatre vibrate. And, now more than ever, it is wonderful to see musicians playing onstage. It is that magic fairy dust that rounds out the collective experience.

Cabaret explores themes of hedonism, escapism, and the struggle for personal freedom. Diving into the contrast between the carefree, sensual world of the cabaret and the encroaching darkness of the Nazi regime. It is and always will be a thought-provoking and emotionally charged musical. This production took it to its maximum expression, captivating all the senses and having it be truly memorable.

Currently playing until October 15. For performing dates and times please click HERE.


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