Saturday, January 14, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Cabaret

Michael-David Blostein (Photo credit: Daniel DiMarco)

The Storm is Now
Cabaret proves it is current
by Stuart Munro

Show girls. Authors. Gender bending. Nazis. All part of the territory in Kander and Ebb’s classic piece, Cabaret, which opened Friday night at the University of Toronto’s Hart House Theatre.

Set in the golden days of the Weimar Republic right before the Nazi’s rise to power, Cabaret tells the story of Clifford Bradshaw (played by Keenan Viau), an American author come to Berlin to find inspiration for his novel; and Sally Bowles (played by Courtney Lamanna), the star of Berlin’s infamous Kit Kat Klub.

Blostein’s Emcee is a wonderful mix of joy and cynicism...

Friday night’s performance got off to a superb start. The rousing opening title tune, led by Michael-David Blostein as the Emcee, welcomes both the audience, and the character of Clifford, into the strange world of the Kit Kat Klub. Blostein’s Emcee is a wonderful mix of joy and cynicism as he narrates the decline of the republic he loves.

Viau’s Bradshaw, while at times a bit stilted, manages to portray a sincere naïveté as he is drawn into a world he doesn’t understand. Over the course of the play he grows and matures, becoming more and more discontent with the Germany he finds himself in.

My initial reaction upon Ms. Lamanna’s entrance as Sally Bowles was that she was too young; how could she possibly portray the experienced and jaded “toast of Mayfair?” My concerns were dashed early on with her playful performance of “Mein Herr,” and at the show’s end, her “Cabaret” exuded a disillusionment and weariness that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

The chorus deserves a special mention.

There were strong performances from all the actors; Glen Mills gives a lighthearted performance as Ernst, making his political motivations all the more shocking; and Renée Stein and Don Berns as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz engage in a tender and loving romance subject to the whims of the politics around them. The chorus deserves a special mention. They performed Amanda Nagy’s Fosse inspired choreography with enthusiasm and a brash fierceness that showed they were loving every minute of their time on stage.

All this talent was pulled together by director Adam Brazier whose clear vision for the piece came through spectacularly. By seamlessly weaving all the various elements of the story together, Brazier blurs the line between the Cabaret and the world outside it to the point where it no longer exists, exemplified at the end when Clifford sits down to write the story we have just watched unfold. Brazier uses the space brilliantly and scenes flow one into the other, never allowing the pace to lag. The gritty, theatrical aesthetic by costume and set designer Brandon Kleiman helps to blur the line between the two worlds forcing the audience to constantly question where the action is actually taking place.

Cabaret is a piece that can easily seem dated, with nothing new to say. It takes a dedicated and talented effort to remind us that this piece can be a powerful commentary on the current state of affairs. Thankfully, that truth is evident and ready to be seen at Hart House Theatre.

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