Monday, February 6, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Cabaret at The Secret Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Cabaret at The Secret Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Based on John Van Druten's 1951 play I Am A Camera
Adapted from the novel Goodbye To Berlin (1939) 
by Christopher Isherwood
Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Co-Directed by Hunter Bird & Chloe Treat
Musical Director: Dan Garmon
Choreographer: Chloe Treat
Stage Manager: Michael J. Tosto
Set Designers: Justin & Christopher Swader
Lighting: Paul T. Kennedy
Costume Design: Antonio Consuegra
The Secret Theatre
44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, New York 11101
Reviewed 2/3/16  

Cabaret opened on Broadway on November 20, 1966, at the Broadhurst Theatre, transferred to the Imperial Theatre and then the Broadway Theatre before closing on September 6, 1969 after 1,165 performances and 21 previews. The production won Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score (John Kander & Fred Ebb), Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Joel Grey), Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Peg Murray), Best Direction of a Musical (Hal Prince), Best Choreography (Ron Field), Best Scenic Design (Boris Aronson), and Best Costume Design (Patricia Zipprodt). The first Broadway revival opened on October 22, 1987 at the Imperial Theatre, eventually transferring to the Minskoff to complete its 261-performance run. Joel Grey received star billing as the Emcee. The second Broadway revival opened after 37 previews on March 19, 1998 at the Kit Kat Klub, housed in what previously had been known as Henry Miller's Theatre. Later that year it transferred to Studio 54, where it remained for the rest of its 2,377-performance run, becoming the third longest-running revival in Broadway musical history, third only to Oh! Calcutta! and Chicago. Alan Cumming was Emcee and the production won Tony Awards for Best Revival of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical (Alan Cumming), Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical (Natasha Richardson), and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical (Ron Rifkin). The show's third Broadway revival was brought back to Studio 54 by the Roundabout Theatre Company, with previews from March 21, 2014 and with opening night being April 24, 2014. Alan Cumming returned as Emcee and the show closed on March 29, 2015. 

Deviance, decadence, and debauchery are the order of the day at the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, Germany on the eve of the Nazi Party taking power. Cliff Bradshaw, a young man originally from Pennsylvania, has just arrived from London looking for inspiration for his next novel (his first novel was about his childhood). On the train, he meets Ernst Ludwig, a smuggler, who helps him to find an apartment in a building owned and managed by Fraulein Schneider. Cliff Bradshaw doesn't have 100 marks to pay for the apartment (he can only afford 50 marks) but apparently has money to pay for male and female prostitutes in multiple countries. Cliff teaches English for extra money and Ernst tries to help by signing up for classes and getting his friends to do the same. Ernst also invites Cliff to spend New Year's Eve with him at the Kit Kat Klub. While there, Sally Bowles, a 32-year old English cabaret singer, calls his table and offers to buy him a drink. His first instinct is to lie and say he is English instead of American (which should tell you something about his character) but that doesn't stop Cliff from immediately inviting Sally to his apartment for sex. (Sally says no because Max, "the man I'm sleeping with this week" is very jealous). When Max fires her, she appears at Cliff's doorstep and gets him to invite her to stay. When Sally becomes pregnant (not knowing who the father is), she tells Cliff, "I'll do the usual thing" (an abortion). Cliff says, "You've done this before?" to which Sally responds, "Thousands of times" (which might explain the pro-Roe v. Wade political solicitation made during intermission). Cliff implores her not to have an abortion and soon becomes possessive, jealous and physically abusive insisting Sally say goodbye to her friends and leave the country with him. 

Cliff Bradshaw is a violent man with a violent temper. He grabs Sally's arm, pushes her down on the bed, and slaps her when he learns she has given her fur coat to a doctor in exchange for an abortion. His immorality and self-righteousness know no bounds. He has no problem smuggling suitcases of money from Paris to Berlin for Ernst so long as he doesn't explicitly know the political ideology of the party he is smuggling it for but when he accidentally learns Ernst is a Nazi, he becomes angry and refuses to go on any more trips. Cliff Bradshaw had no problem teaching all of Ernst's Nazi friends how to speak English but after seeing a swastika tattoo on his arm,  he suddenly takes the position of moral superiority. Ernst tries to explain the Nazis are "the builders of a new Germany" and that, if he were German, he would understand. When Ernst inquires about the reason for Cliff's coldness (and whether it had to do with his advice to Fraulein Schneider that it might be ill-advised to marry Herr Schultz, a Jew, at this time), Cliff hauls off and punches Ernst in the face. Three of Ernst's friends intervene and beat Cliff up (Cliff's funny line to Sally when she sees the result of the beating was, "You should see the other three guys. Not a mark on them!"). To gain emotional support for his betrayal of Ernst, Cliff demands that Sally starts hating Nazis too, even though she is not in the least bit political (He tells her, "If you're not against what's going on, then you might as well be for it."). Fraulein Schneider takes Ernst's advice and breaks off the engagement with Herr Schultz. As she says, "we can't dismiss the Nazis. Many of them are my friends and neighbors. We must be sensible." Fraulein Schneider utters the funniest line in the musical after she confronts Fraulein Kost for bringing into her apartment a parade of sailors. Fraulein Schneider says, "With all the sailors coming in and out, God only knows what the neighbors think I'm running here - a battleship!" She then sternly warns Fraulein Kost, "If you want to stay here, you must not let me catch you bringing in sailors." Eventually, Cliff Bradshaw leaves Berlin without Sally Bowles but with plenty of new material and inspiration for his new novel.

This production of Cabaret at The Secret Theatre is an unmitigated success. The set and the costumes are magnificent and much effort was put into making the audience feel as if they were patrons in the Kit Kat Klub. The short distance between the actors and the audience creates an atmosphere of intimacy as does the inspired placement of the musicians in every corner of the theater. Seeing this musical is an experience you will not soon forget. It's a winner! While some of the alternative casting choices might at first be a cause for concern, I can assure you a few minutes into the play, you will realize that casting Larry Owens as Emcee and Sue Lynn Yu as Fraulein Schneider were inspired decisions. Larry Owens makes the part his own and his confident stage presence helps you to leave the problems of the world outside because in his club, "life is beautiful." Sue Lynn Yu portrays Fraulein Schneider as a practical, yet sympathetic, character. She had a very big challenge to bring her own unique twist to this role and handled the task extraordinarily well. At the Kit Kat Klub, you are asked if you would like a boy or a girl, but that is a trick question because some of the "girls" are "boys." Of all the Kit Kat Klub girls and boys, the standout performer was Vinny Celeiro, who played Texas ("who's actually from Florida"). Tall and blond with a charismatic stage presence, Mr. Celeiro commanded attention and dominated the chorus line.

Every actor in this production more than holds their own and makes a significant contribution to the show's success. They all deserve credit for a job well done. However, besides the three actors mentioned already, three others are deserving of special recognition. Jeff Hathcoat, an extremely talented, charismatic actor, is brilliant as Ernst Ludwig, a friendly guy who may be a drug dealer and is a regular at the Kit Kat Klub while remaining politically active as a Nazi Party member and operative. It is a complicated role to pull off and he handles it with ease. Jeff Hathcoat is a rising star in the theater. Keep an eye out for him. Alexa Poller was perfect as Fraulein Kost bringing strength, character, and confidence to the part. Finally, Mark Coffin carried off the lovelorn, oblivious Herr Schultz with aplomb. He was a pleasure to watch perform on stage. So many people, on and off stage, spent countless hours to make this production of Cabaret one that is memorable and can stand up to the success of prior productions. There is no doubt The Secret Theatre has achieved this and I urge you to see this show on or before February 19, 2017. Tickets cost $20.00 and can be purchased at 

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