Friday, January 24, 2014

Review: (Toronto) Cabaret

(photo: Seanna Kennedy)

Kander and Ebb classic is a wilkommen addition to the LOT’s repertoire.
Occasionally misplaced excess won’t spoil your evening at this Cabaret.
by Christian Baines

Full disclosure before we begin. I really can’t overstate my personal affection for Cabaret, which has been my favourite musical for almost as long as I’ve loved the form. Kander and Ebb’s songs are timeless, Christopher Isherwood’s unforgettable characters engage us immediately, and the plot’s modular structure (based as it is on a collection of short stories) allows plenty of room for a unique take on it every time. 

Those qualities have secured Cabaret an enduring popularity with young audiences fascinated by Isherwood’s Berlin. If the energy of this production at Lower Ossington Theatre (LOT) is any indication, Cabaret has many more long and happy years ahead of it.

Director Jeremy Hutton certainly keeps his supporting cast busy, and while his devotion to giving everyone as much stage time as possible overwhelms the production in parts, it works splendidly for energetic numbers such as Don’t Tell Mama and particularly, Wilkommen. Adam Norrad’s Emcee drips with the same uncompromisingly masculine sensuality he brings to Frank ‘n’ Furter in LOT’s Rocky Horror, though the similarities end there. This Emcee is a wry, ever-leering observer to the disintegration of Weimar Berlin, and while Norrad loses some of that detachment during 11 o’clock showstopper I Don’t Care Much, it serves him splendidly during the campier sequences inside the Kit Kat Club.

Kylie McMahon plays Sally Bowles – surely one of the top five roles for women in musical theatre. One assumes the scenery during Don’t Tell Mama is delicious, because McMahon delights in chewing it with gusto. She also feels oddly disconnected to the desires that underpin Maybe This Time. Her slow, palpable depiction of Sally’s meltdown throughout the second act however, culminates in a blitzkrieg delivery of the show’s title tune (very possibly the best I’ve seen on stage) and quickly puts these shortcomings far from mind.

A word on Erin Brookhouse’s jaw-dropping choreography. While, it’s clear from the outset that Hutton believes more is always more, Brookhouse revels in it, making the most of the supporting cast’s considerable talents while never dragging focus from our protagonists. Again, it’s in the club numbers where her partnership with Hutton yields its greatest results, each proving every bit as dynamic and cheeky as the last.

When the production does run into trouble, it’s usually because Hutton has let that appetite for a busy stage take over where it doesn’t belong. Specifically, the first instance of Tomorrow Belongs to Me is staged with almost the entire cast portraying Hitler Youth. Not only does it lack the narrative setup to carry such a large scene (which disappears just as quickly), it leaves the reprise with nowhere to go in depicting Naziism’s rise (though one delicious gesture from Norrad does capture its insidiousness). The finale is even more heavy-handed, with scenes of marching soldiers and frightened prisoners being herded into concentration camps. Such distracting literalism is completely unnecessary for an audience fully aware of what happened in Germany at the time, and robs Norrad of one final chance to chill us as the lights go out on one of history’s most decadent eras.

These few missteps however do little to spoil the overall production. LOT’s new Cabaret captures all that is decadent and alluring about this show with a cast of wonderful young performers, simple, effective production design and lively choreography. Forgive its occasional excesses and you have a first-class production to please both newcomers and longtime fans alike.

Cabaret runs Jan. 23 - Mar. 2

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