ASU Gammage: Cabaret Review

I’m not a bit musical theater person, but I’ve found myself surrounded by those who are very much into the scene. With the coming ASU Gammage season, I’ve decided to take the plunge and see if I could find some musicals that are more my speed. First on the docket is Cabaret. Note: There will be spoilers for all things Cabaret.

Cabaret Logo - Two Second Street - www.twosecondstreet.com

The Good

Transition from Act I to Act II

The Emcee was probably one of the greatest parts of the show: He acts part clown, part chorus, part emcee to push the story forward. His interludes at the Kit Kat Club were raunchy and fun to watch, never too serious until the second act. I think the play was very self-aware and that really became obvious in the second act. The shift in tone is sudden and disorienting: Everything was just happy and crazy until it’s revealed that Ernst is a Nazi and Fraulein Kost outs Herr Schultz as a Jew. The second act sees everything falling apart, leading to an ending that sees no one happy and the audience knowing how history will play out for these poor people. The final image of the Emcee in Jewish prison garb being electrocuted to death shows that not even the magical trickster who guided us through this journey is free from atrocities to come. The fun times cannot ignore history.

Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz

The most family-friendly duo, for me, was also the most relatable. Schultz and Schneider start as two lonely people who find that they work well together. I found that most of the action revolved around what these two characters were doing: the engagement party, the brick through the window, and the eventual departure of Schultz brought into the spotlight the encroaching menace and how the older generation didn’t particularly fear or understand the Nazi regime. Theirs is a simple yet tragic story of how our context can interfere with happiness and their portrayals were a joy to follow.

The Bad

Sally Bowles and What’s-his-name

The main character is supposed to be the American writer, Clifford Bradshaw, but honestly, he is the least sympathetic character in the show. He’s boring: He doesn’t mature, he doesn’t change, and nothing he does seems to have any impact on the main story. His romance with Sally seems flubbed and awkward, Clifford only staying with her because she’s pregnant. Maybe it’s a generational thing I might be missing here, but his story arc seemed incredibly flat. His end in the play is him slapping Sally for getting an abortion and fleeing to America. I don’t see anything really charming or interesting about this character. What did Sally see in him, anyway?

Conclusion

The music was good, overall. I enjoyed the pineapple song and the varying versions of Willkommen really set an amazing tone for the scenes that surround them. I think Randy Harrison blew it out of the water with his portrayal of the Emcee; that alone was worth the price of admission.

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, not exactly knowing much about it prior. I particularly liked how excellently it captured this looming sense of dread and terror, playing on what the audience knows what will happen in Germany, while having its characters make their own choices without knowing or understanding what is to come. The goofy romp and optimism that comprises the first act would have become tiresome for another hour, but thankfully, the second act took a very dark and pensive turn, something I found to be a powerful and enjoyable surprise.

I want to really say that this was the musical for me but the absolute bore that was the Sally and Clifford story prevents it from being great for me. It’s still incredibly good and I would whole-heartedly recommend, so if you haven’t seen it, I’d give it a go!

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