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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
Theater: Cabaret 
27th-Jan-2013 09:25 pm
No world domination
Today, I went downtown to a little place called The Keegan Theatre for their production of Cabaret. I had never seen the musical end-to-end before, so this was a real treat. I went into it knowing that this was not going to be an uplifting, happy musical, so wasn't disappointed on that count. What I enjoyed was how small and intimate the musical was as it touched on important social themes of budding-Nazi Germany.

In solid contrast to the iconic Joel Grey (1966 Broadway and 1972 film versions), who was powerful yet mysteriously androgynous, the Emcee played here by Paul Scanlan was distinctly and unabashedly masculine. Scanlan's presentation was omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnisexual. He was the one-man Greek chorus throughout the show, regardless of scene or set placement. Scanlan also was missing that air of menace that I recall from the clips of Grey's performance. I enjoyed this version of the presentation very much, with Scanlan's attitude of superciliousness in the first act being eroded by drugs, social pressures, and eventually the rise of the Nazis at the end of the second.

For me, the show was made and won not by Maria Rizzo (playing Sally Bowles) or by Bradly Foster Smith (playing Cliff Bradshaw), but by the most amazing performance turned in by Jane Petkofsky as Fräulein Schneider. I was absolutely in love with her range of emotion and emphasis in some painfully varied songs. "So What?" and "What Would You Do?" were neither happy songs. They were songs of resignation, of lost opportunities, of lost horizons. In comparison, the tentative out-reaching of emotions in "It Couldn't Please Me More" and "Married" were that much more tender for their tenuous nature. The casting of Stan Shulman across from her as Herr Schultz was genius. He was the perfect little grandpa character, with a pleasingly strong character appearance and some excellent mannerisms for each scene.

This was the opening weekend for Keegan's Cabaret, and there were still some rough edges. A few people flubbed lines and cues, and there were some mis-steps here and there. The girls in the chorus line were not distinctly polished, but that was easy to overlook. The small orchestra upstairs was solid, on key, and on cue. What the ensemble lacked in smooth polish it made up in power and enthusiasm. The person running the stage left spotlight could definitely use more practice, though. It was a bit distracting to have people be cut off or half-lit as their cues came up. I also couldn't tell if Sally's lost wig just before the final "Cabaret" was through accident or on purpose. Rizzo bullied through her final number with strength and didn't let on that there was any problem, though, so I was left wondering.

Even with that set of small errors, it was a good show in a nice theater. I definitely recommend this version of Cabaret to anyone who would find the show or the subject to be of interest.

As we were leaving, the woman with whom I attended the show commented on how ... apologist? ... excusing? this musical was of Americans. Cliff (America) tried to get people (Fräulein Schneider) to stand up to the bad guys, and to flee (Herr Schultz) the bad things, and so when Cliff leaves by himself in tatters, he shouldn't be blamed for how bad Germany got, right? ... It's an interesting perspective. I will have to consider it, and maybe research the evolution of the play itself from the original book.
28th-Jan-2013 02:37 am (UTC)
On reflection, I think a lot of my frustration with Cliff could have been reduced with a deeper performance. The actor was competent, but it's a difficult role to play; Cliff goes from "I know this smuggling is political, but I don't want to know who you represent" (with the strong implication, I think, that he does know and just doesn't want to acknowledge it) to "You're a Nazi! I hate you! I could never work for you!" There's a complex emotional arc there, something that makes him shift from indifference to political activism--but I don't think we ever saw it on stage. The engagement party is, I guess, the key scene, but Cliff seemed backgrounded there, not really part of the action. So what's left is someone who seems a symbol, a tool of the plot, not an actual person with psychological depth.
28th-Jan-2013 02:48 am (UTC)
It is kind of sad, really, that it is zero-for-two this weekend for strong, nuanced leading male characters. I agree that Cliff spent too much of his time apparently being led around, and muttering objections while still allowing other people to be stronger in the scenes. Maybe that was on purpose, but it made his sudden stand look like hate more than conviction.
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28th-Jan-2013 11:26 am (UTC)
I'm flattered! I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you understand that this is not a happy musical on any level. It's about a mixed collection of shallow, manipulative, spineless, and hopeless people, and is set against the rise of fascism.
28th-Jan-2013 06:40 pm (UTC)
The matinee on Sunday is the way to go. Parking was *easy* for me. The entire section of Church St. in front of the theater was empty when I showed up.
28th-Jan-2013 02:42 am (UTC)
Incidentally, I was kind of uneasy at the number of audience titters during the first part of "If You Could See Her;" I've never seen the show or heard the music before, but it was obvious to me where the song was going from the moment the woman in the gorilla suit came on stage. Apparently not to other people, though? The utter silence at the "punchline" was gratifying, at least.
28th-Jan-2013 02:49 am (UTC)
Yes, I noticed that the audience was suddenly taking the show at shallow/face value for the gorilla scene. I did enjoy the shocked silence at the end, and admit taking some satisfaction from it. Mel Brooks, this wasn't. And no laugh was WAY better than any guffaws at the end of that number.
28th-Jan-2013 02:55 am (UTC)
Which I gather from reading online is what the songwriter intended, anyway; to lull the audience into a false sense of security, exposing the ease of shaping prejudice through propaganda, and then shock them with their own acceptance of it. I was just surprised that it worked.
28th-Jan-2013 06:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I saw a story in the WaPo about this production, and had it floating around as a possibility. Your review caught me at the perfect time this morning and nudged me to go, tickets acquired!
28th-Jan-2013 06:40 pm (UTC)
I hope you enjoy it. It's not a happy story, but I was very pleased with the performance thereof.

Also, beware of parking. Unless you got Sunday matinee tickets, you may find it difficult to get street parking.
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