Cabaret: The Musical

15826638_1214895788576018_9144172179117245613_nThe multiple Tony Award-winning Cabaret is a musical frozen in time, yet its themes remain powerful and even more relevant today.

It is set in Berlin at the seedy Kit Kat Klub during the Nazis rise to power. Cabaret revolves around the relationship of Cliff, an American writer, and Sally, a young expat English performer.

A character that guides us through our journey is the Klub’s Emcee, a quirky androgynous individual played by Mandie Russak. Her Emcee portrayal brings a new and interesting perspective to a traditional male role. Katie Aiello McCusker’s Sally is a likable enough opportunist. Her singing at the Klub lets you know she is never going to be a big star.  That being said, her Perfectly Marvelous and Maybe This Time are indeed marvelous vocally.

Directors Nate Newell and Rob Jessup follow the trend of recent productions, including the Sam Mendes’ Broadway revival, which has played up the decadence, depravity, and decay of German society prior to WW II. This interpretation brings the period’s sexual mores to the forefront.

This can be a slippery slope depending on your audiences’ perspective. The power of Cabaret lies in the audiences’ ability to identify and empathize with each character in the show. Over time we have to grow to accept the odd personalities and character flaws. This strong relationship that the audience builds with the characters is key to achieving the emotional finale.

As the show comes to a close, the Emcee is usually heard to say: “ Where are your troubles now? See I told you so! We have no troubles here…” Implicit in this line is the warning that this could happen to you, your friends and your loved ones.

When the ending works, the audience should be near tears as the final curtain comes down.

The Newell / Jessup re-imagined finale is more in your face than the original, as it removes the opportunity for the audience to slowly envision in their own mind what is about to happen to the characters they have grown to like and care for.

Maybe in today’s world of alternative facts, we need a blunt reality check as this has never been a feel-good musical. Cabaret reflects the chaos and poignancy of its times.

The production is well cast, and it reflects on the depth of the many talented performers that work in the theatres in the Pittsburgh area. Notable standouts include Linda Stayer as Fraulein Schneider and Cassidy Adkins as Fraulein Kost. Their characters span generations of women, each in their own way doing what they need to do to eek out a living while searching for some degree of happiness. Donning a beard is Seaton Hill senior Josh Reardon’s Cliff (perhaps to help him appear older), but the facial hair is unfortunately totally out of period.

Choreographer Laura Wurzell makes good use of the compact stage and features of the Lamp Theatre. The choreography is complex and well executed by the Kit Kat Girls and Boys.

The orchestra is visible on stage, physically integral but not integrated. Costume Designer Sharon Wiant missed an opportunity by not dressing the on stage musicians as the Kit Kat Klub orchestra. I personally longed for a couple of strings to smooth the sound of the orchestrations.

Sound Designer Bill Elder hit all his cues with a moderately loud audience forward mix. However, sound design for a classic musical in an intimate venue should be unnoticeable, just filling in the gaps to insure audibility. There is a needed balance between the Klub performances and the more intimate scenes.  A prop vintage microphone would have helped create a perceived acoustic signature for the Klub performances.

Mike Pilyih’s lighting design failed to take advantage of the Lamp’s extensive fixture collection to create a visibly different atmosphere between the Klub and the plays other locales. This is an important design consideration when scenic backgrounds remain essentially the unchanged throughout the production.

This is one of the most uniformly well-done community theatre productions we have seen this winter season. Cabaret delivers on Split Stage Co-founders Nate Newell and Rob Jessup’s vision to bring relevant and challenging theatre to the Westmoreland County area.

One patron was overheard leaving the theatre saying, “This (theatre) is the best thing to ever happen to Irwin.”

Split Stage presents Cabaret at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin. Performances February 2nd through 4th at 8pm. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Thanks to Split Stage and Lamp Theatre for the complementary tickets.