Sizzling hot performances await those lucky enough to catch Forge Theatre’s production of CABARET, which opened on November 4th, and will run through December 3rd, with a break for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. If you only know of the 1972, Joel Grey/Liza Minnelli movie version of this musical, based on the Broadway show that first opened in November 1966, at the Broadhurst Theatre, you are in for a very special treat. The cast of this CABARET brilliantly brings to the Forge Theatre stage the 1998 Broadway revival version which featured Allan Cumming, who created a more highly sexualized role as the Emcee than the asexual, somewhat malevolent character created by Joel Grey in the original stage and movie versions.
In the opening number, the Emcee, played with erotic flair and impeccable timing by Russ White, sings Willcommen in which he implores the audience to “leave your troubles outside…we have no trouble here…here life is beautiful.” CABARET takes place in 1930, Berlin, Germany. Though enjoying high times during the “Golden 20s,” Berlin, then the third largest municipality in the world, was clearly entering politically tumultuous times. As unemployment figures rose in the wake of America’s Great Depression, Germans began embracing the far right rhetoric of the Nazi party which was soon to take control as the Third Reich. As depicted in CABARET, patrons and Kit Kat Klub performers were both free to be themselves and, for a time, to escape the raging madness taking place in the larger society which was bent on assigning blame for their misfortunes through scapegoats such as sexual minorities and Jews.
Against this historical backdrop, the audience will meet four central characters who serve, albeit in a simplified manner, as possible mirror images for those of us in the current era who may similarly regard troubling changes that seem to be taking place in our own socio-political landscape. We first meet Cliff Bradshaw, the poor struggling American writer who has come to Berlin to finish his novel, only to be caught up instead in the allure of those with whom he comes in contact. Michael Shoeman does an excellent job of portraying the reluctant participation of this outside observer who despite his misgivings gets coaxed deeper into a romantic relationship than he at first intended. He struggles with his own sense of morality as a gay man who is far from being out, and as a man of social consciousness who grows fearful of what he sees happening to those he comes to care about.
Cliff’s love interest is Sally Bowles, the lead singer/dancer at the “naughty” Kit Kat Klub, who represents the self-involved, carefree type of person whose only interest is seemingly in the next thrill ride, and when reality creeps too close to home, escapes through booze and meaningless sexual encounters. Erin Byrnes breathes wonderfully intense energy into this character and whether dancing and singing or flirting and arguing with Cliff, upon whom she forces herself, she is captivating.
The other two central characters are Fraulein Schneider, the landlord who rents a room to the struggling writer Cliff. She is the personification of the common Berliner of the times who looks out for herself and others as best she can, never has taken any substantial risks in life, and who ultimately feels there is little difference she can make in the world. So when faced with a life-changing decision she acquiesces. Long-time favorite of Forge Theatre audiences, Regina DePaolis is magnificent in this role. She is charmingly expressive in her scenes with Bob Goretski, another Forge regular, who plays Herr Schultz, the German Jew fruit vendor who is smitten with Fraulein Schneider. Goretski is flawlessly believable as the Jew who so firmly believes in the goodness of all, and his identity as a German citizen, that he cannot envision the possible threat awaiting him should the emerging Nazi politicos come to power.
Delivering what I believe to be the most dynamic portrayal ever of CABARET’s Emcee is Russ White, who is, quite simply, amazing. His performance was easily comparable, if not better, than the performances on Broadway of Alan Cumming, Raul Esparza, or Neil Patrick Harris. And, if you don’t believe me, then go see for yourself.
The talented Kit Kat Klub Dancers whose scanty lingerie costumes add an unmistakable Bob-Fosse-like appeal to the several dance numbers make this show all the more fun. Kudos, no doubt, go to choreographer Rose-Marie Abi Richa. Standout performances were also delivered by Renée Schultz as Fraulein Kost, the prostitute renter in Fraulein Schneider’s house, and Brian Schwartz, who played the devious German Nazi sympathizer who is looking to make his fortune through any means available.
So go and be swept away by the sexy nightlife at the Kit Kat Klub in the Forge Theatre’s production of the mega-hit musical CABARET. Revel in the wonderful performances by all cast members who take full advantage of the intimate setting that audiences at the Forge Theatre enjoy. And, upon leaving the excitement of the evening’s performance you might think to yourself, as the director’s notes in the Show’s program suggest: How might I have acted in 1930’s Berlin; would I, too, have preferred pretending there was no “storm in the wind”?
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by Dru Ullery
November 4-December 3, 2011
241 North First Street
Phoenixville, PA 19460