REVIEW: Cabaret (The Hypocrites’)

Willkommen to a darker, sexier ‘Cabaret’

 

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The Hypocrites Theatre presents
 
Cabaret
 

Book by Joe Masteroff
Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Music by John Kander
Directed by Matt Hawkins
DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph (map)

through May 23rd | tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The first thing you will notice about The Hypocrites’s production of Cabaret is the genderbending. The scene-stealing role of the emcee, who has been played by everyone from Joel Gray to Alan Cumming to Neil Patrick Harris, is now played by a woman (Jessie Fisher). And whereas the men always brought a certain effeminacy to the role, Fisher brings a cocky butchness without sacrificing her sensuality.

TheHypocrites_Cabaret_03 You could view this casting call as a way to pander to a more general audience, eliminating the homosexual overtones of the show’s ringmaster. But The Hypocrites’ version of the piece is still rife with in-your-face graphic gay sexuality, from the lingering kiss between the American Cliff (Michael Peters) and one of the cabaret boys to the completely unsubtle choreography, which includes a lot of mock copulation.

In fact, if anything, the choice to womanize the emcee adds an additional thematic element to the play, one that promotes the strength and courage of women and the misogyny of the Nazi state. This is most effective during the song “I Don’t Care Much.” Director Matt Hawkins places four masked Nazi soldiers around the emcee who watch her with cold, dead eyes. The emcee staggers around the stage, spitting at the men as she taunts them with the lyrics of the song, knowing full well that she is writing her own death sentence.

Fisher exudes confidence as the nightclub’s central figure She also has a clever wit, ad-libbing occasionally during some of the more light-hearted numbers such as “Willkommen.” Like her carriage on stage, her voice is vigorously energetic, proving to be one of the strongest in the cast.

Lindsay Leopold plays the manic Sally Bowles with feral-like fierceness. The character of Sally spans a spectrum of emotion, oftentimes displaying two distinct feelings at once: her external exuberance and her inner depression. Leopold straddles this spectrum well. For example, her rendition of “Cabaret” is not the joyful melody you may recall from the movie. Rather, it’s a melancholy rendition made all the more poignant when contrasted with the upbeat lyrics.

The costumes in the musical are basically a character unto themselves. Costume designer Alison Siple creates a cohesive aesthetic that combines ruffles and rags with garters and lace. The women look simply fantastic. However, the men did not get the same treatment. Whereas the women’s flamboyant costumes genuinely reflect the sexy cabaret atmosphere, the men’s costumes seem more like cartoonish afterthoughts.

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Hawkins direction is superb. The play moves along quickly, juggling various plotlines from the rise of the Nazi regime to Sally’s love affair with Cliff to the engagement of the landlady Frau Schneider. But it never feels hurried. The staging is also impressive. At the beginning of the play, the cabaret girls make grand entrances by sliding down poles, while near the end, the faceless Nazi guards stand menacingly along the catwalk above the stage.

The play is also done in a cabaret setting, providing ample intimacy for the audience and performers. Although most of the audience is relegated to risers, a few lucky patrons are able to sit at tables along the stage.

The Hypocrites Theatre’s production of Cabaret is dark, sexy and fabulous. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see the play in an intimate, cabaret-like setting, this is your chance. With great direction, singing and revealing costumes, the show will titillate and entertain before crash-landing into its inevitable, disturbing conclusion.

 
 
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Extra Credit:

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Review: Drury Lane Oakbrook’s “Cabaret”

Drury Lane’s “Cabaret” needs some dirt
underneath it’s green fingernails

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Drury Lane Oakbrook (map) presents:

Cabaret
By Joe Masteroff (book), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and John Kander (music)
directed by Jim Corti
thru October 11th (buy tickets)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

cabaret01Drury LaneOakbrook’s production of Cabaret is pretty, but afraid to get dirty. Jim Corti’s choreography  is tight and the singing is more than serviceable, but it lacks the pulse and frantic energy that have made this show a postwar classic. The desperation of post-World War I/pre-Nazi Germany is never truly captured, and the end result doesn’t quite have the political punch that the book and music deserve.

When American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Jim Weitzer) arrives in Berlin, he and the audience are greeted by the over-the-top theatrics of the post-World War I cabaret, but director/choreographer Sam Corti‘s vision of the Kit Kat Club feels tame. Yes, there is plenty of sex and booze flowing, but the atmosphere feels more Cole Porter than Kander and Ebb. The nature of the cabaret, an underground pleasure den where German citizens could escape the hardships of reality, seems to be lost as grit is replaced with glitter. The Master of Ceremonies (Patrick Andrews), takes the stage with a boyish delight, but Andrews struggles to find the darkness in the character that symbolizes the Nazi party’s rise as a legitimate political force.

cabaret02 Zarah Mahler has a similar struggle with the darker thematic elements of the show in her portrayal of Sally Bowles, the English songstress that can’t balance her love for Clifford with the frivolity of the cabaret at the same time. The chemistry between Weitzer and Mahler never quite ignites, making the relationship between the two seem forced and putting even more pressure on Mahler to show Sally’s desperate need for affection, a feat that is finally accomplished in her rendition of the musical’s title number.

cabaret02 Unlike the 1972 film, the stage version of Cabaret devotes much more time to the ascent of the Nazi party and the consequences it has on ordinary Berlin citizens. In a heartbreaking subplot involving Clifford’s landlady Fraulein Schneider (Rebecca Finnegan) and her Jewish beau Herr Schultz (David Lively), the cruel and pervasive nature of Nazism provides the motion that the production needs. When Fraulein Kost (Christine Sherrill), Schneider’s bitter prostitute tenant, leads the denizens of the cabaret in a rousing version of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” at the couple’s engagement party, the tension is nerve-rattling. The scene shows a glimmer of the Cabaret that could have been, a terrifyingly exciting examination on the appeal of true evil in a desperate world.

Rating:  ««½

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