For Jenn Maley ’16, Cabaret is a story of survival and gilding. According to her, the characters do whatever they can to survive–the decisions they must make are heart-breaking, but they do what is necessary in order to continue living their lives–while the Nazi party, which will transform Germany into a nightmare, rises to power as a glamorous party.
Maley particularly emphasizes how important it is to capture the initially positive image of the Nazi party for many Germans–something she learned from Alice Eichenbaum, a survivor of World War II who has spoken to the cast and will speak again to the Brown community this weekend (more on that later). Maley infuses these two ideas into her envisioning of the Broadway classic, introducing them in the shadows of Act I and bringing them to the forefront in the harrowing tragedy of Act II.
The effect is incredible; Maley’s complex conceptual comprehension of the play transforms this production into an incredibly powerful entity.
While the beginning feels somewhat stagnant and one-dimensional, the play catches fire during the Schneider-Schultz engagement party. This scene is where the darkness beneath the veneer of the Nazi party is first exposed.
This darkness is compelling, and the creative team’s unique touches–especially in lighting and choreography–accentuate the discrepancy between the fantastical world of Sally Bowles and the real, ominous nature of the rising Nazi party. This duality snowballs into the second act, where the play evolves into an untamable and passionate tragedy. This is where the true magic of this production, the decay of the principals, comes to the forefront.
The minimalist set (just two central platforms and an elevated platform on each side of the theater), which was at first somewhat disappointing and confusing, takes on a whole new meaning as the glitzy world of the play’s opening dissolves into the darkness of the changing times. The uncontrollable second act tumbles towards an electrifying finale where, in its final moments, even the Emcee’s façade is literally stripped away.
Of course, a play is nothing without its cast, and Cabaret‘s actors do a great job of portraying their characters. The entire show is catalyzed and explained by the Emcee, who is played by Frankie Troncoso ’16. Troncoso does a phenomenal job of capturing the complexities of the show’s leader; he pulls the audience (at times, quite literally) into the world of the Kit Kat Klub, fearlessly embraces the highly sexual charisma of the Emcee, conveys the character’s haunting omniscience in a subtle yet powerful way, and adds his own subtle touches to further articulate his character’s message. Spencer Roth-Rose ’17 personifies the audience in his portrayal of Cliff Bradshaw; the frustration and horror that Roth-Rose pumps into Bradshaw embody the audience’s terror as the other characters, as well as Bradshaw’s Berlin, crumble around him. Christina Ames ’15 plays the role of Bradshaw’s love interest, Sally Bowles.
Ames transforms Sally into a desperate woman who cannot allow the darkness in the world to seep into her rosy vision of her glitzy life as a Kit Kat Klub starlet. Her portrayal of Sally is not completely over-the-top, which humanizes the character and makes her decline all the more upsetting. Ellie Gravitte ’17, a.k.a. Fräulein Schneider, captures the spirit of her role perfectly; her disciplined nature and adorable awkwardness in the presence of her love interest endear her to the audience.
The same can be said for Herr Schultz, who is played by Peter Traver ’18. His most notable feature, however, is his beautiful voice. Their onstage chemistry makes Schneider’s tough decision all the more heart-breaking. Kat Boorstein ’16 subtly transforms Fräulein Kost into one of the most important roles in the play, skillfully capturing the character’s humor and prevailing need for survival. Finally, Jake Kuhn ’17 masters the art of deception in his portrayal of Herr Ernst Ludwig as a jovial and benevolent friend with a very dark secret.
In my opinion, the mark of a successful play is its ability to communicate a message. This production of Cabaret just does that. The two central themes of survival and the Nazi veneer take root right from the start, in a way so subtle that it’s almost subliminal; but by the end, they have fully developed and come to the center of the plot in a dynamic maelstrom. It’s one of those productions that blind-sides you; you don’t see the impact coming until you’re already reeling.
Opening night is tonight at 8 p.m., and there will be additional performances Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 6 p.m. AND 10 p.m., and Monday at 8 p.m.! If you do go, make sure to get to there an hour early in order to get a ticket at the door. Additionally, Alice Eichenbaum will be sharing her World War II experiences in Macmillan 117 on Sunday at 2pm. She has a powerful story to tell, so you should absolutely stop by.
Images via Jake Kuhn ’17, Danielle Perelman ’17, and Richard Park ’15.