Western Stage's Cabaret has the goods, but needs more oomph.
Thursday, September 18, 2003
Photo by: Richard Green. Wilkommen: Lauren Creager (Sally Bowles) and Joe Niesen (Emcee) deliver standout performances.
When Cabaret first opened on Broadway in 1966, it broke new theatrical ground. The plot dealt with anti-Semitism, Nazism, homosexuality, extreme hedonism--themes never before explored so openly on the American musical stage.
Along with some gorgeous songs--the ebullient "Come to the Caberet," the terrifying "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," the racy "Mein Herr,"--Cabaret gave the world the now-iconic characters of the Emcee and Sally Bowles, as well as the seedy, no-holds-barred Kit-Kat Club they inhabited. The script''s clever interweaving of the unfolding storyline of the main characters, with the musical numbers at the Kit-Kat Club--which provide ongoing allusions to the rise of Nazism in Germany--made Cabaret one of the more complex, dramatically compelling American musicals.
The script as originally written focused on Clifford Bradshaw, a young American writer newly-arrived in 1929 Berlin, who falls in love with an ex-pat, second-rate British nightclub chanteuse named Sally Bowles. By the time the 1972 Joel Grey/Liza Minelli film appeared, Clifford''s character was openly gay, underscoring the fact that Jews were not the only minority persecuted in Hitler''s Germany.
The Western Stage uses this newer version of Cabaret, bringing in a gay couple, and mining the dramatic potential in the Emcee''s character as a man who would soon face the same fate as Herr Schultz, the Jewish greengrocer, who, we are led to believe, will not survive the Holocaust.
It''s a good choice, particularly with Equity actor (and Salinas native) Joe Niesen playing the Emcee. Niesen wisely avoids parroting Joel Grey''s interpretation of the role, creating instead a more vulnerable, quiet Emcee, a man desperately trying to hide his growing terror behind a painted-on smile. His is a masterful, original performance.
Lauren Creager as Sally Bowles is also strong, perfectly capturing the character''s penchant for non-stop high drama. She might consider, however, toning down the histrionics in her scenes with Clifford, played with considerable understatement by Evan Brashier. Clifford is one of the more thankless male leads in American musicals, but Brashier could still give him a bit more oomph.
By contrast, the scenes between Fraulein Schneider (Anna Schumacher) and Herr Schultz (Jaimie Roedel) were charming. Their courtship song, "It Couldn''t Please Me More," was simply lovely, and the musical numbers in the Kit Kat Club were all performed very well by a fine group of (mostly) girls.
Overall, however, the production lagged. Line pick-up was sluggish, dialogue was lost due to bad miking and lackluster projection, and scene changes were excruciatingly slow.