by John Kander,
Fred Ebb, and Joe Masteroff
Uncle Randy Productions Centennial
Cabaret is not your typical boy-meets-girl and everyone-lives-happily-ever-after musical.
Set in Berlin in 1930 during the rise of Nazism, Joe Masteroff’s bleak script employs images of grotesque sexuality to present a decadent society on the eve of its apocalypse. The lovers at the centre of the plot are an alcoholic woman who sleeps with different men every week and a man who would rather sleep with other men. John Kander’s music and Fred Ebb’s lyrics are pretty dark, too. The title song is so bitterly ironic that the singer collapses in tears at the end of her performance. “Life is a cabaret,” indeed.
North Van’s Uncle Randy Productions tackles the show’s musical challenges head on. Backed by a nine-piece orchestra perched high at the back of George Dart’s great-looking set, the scenes in the Kit Kat Club are absolutely terrific—and graphically, perversely sexual.
As the ultra-sleazy Emcee, Bobby Bruce delivers a dynamic performance extreme on the slime scale but never over the top. Gliding and grinding around the stage, he vividly captures the Emcee’s sinister, seductive grotesquerie. Bruce’s resonant voice has just the right nasty edge when he welcomes us to the cabaret in the great opening number, celebrates sexual threesomes in “Two Ladies,” or blasts us with the cynical “I Don’t Care Much.”
Jayme Armstrong is also in strong voice as Sally Bowles, belting out the show’s other big songs: “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Mein Herr,” “Cabaret.” And the six fabulous Kit Kat Girls, costumed by Tanja Kranz in every kind of scanty underwear and imaginatively choreographed by Shelley Stuart Hunt, provide gritty choral accompaniment and sultry dance tableaux.
The creeping plague of Nazism is also effectively handled, from its subtle introduction to the final, horrific image of the holocaust. The Nazi theme, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” is terrifying when sung by the full chorus but even more powerful and eerie when the Emcee, isolated by Rob Sondergaard’s dramatic, blood-red lighting, plays a scratchy recording of it, sung in sweet soprano by a young boy.
Unfortunately, the show loses momentum whenever the music stops or the scene shifts from the club to the rooming house. That’s where Sally and the American writer Cliff (Kevin Michael Cripps) are working on their weird relationship, and where the main sub-plot takes place, the late-life romance between the landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Carla Stewart), and Jewish Herr Schultz (Fred Galloway).
Although Stewart has a fine voice and Keri Minty does very good work as a desperate prostitute boarding there, these scenes just can’t compete with the Kit Kat’s decadence. Neither the music nor the relationships here are as interesting as what goes on at the club. And co-directors Richard Berg and Roger Haskett manage only sporadically to bring the level of the acting throughout the show up to the very high standard of its singing and dancing.