The Two Faces of “Cabaret”

“Cabaret,” certainly the most risqué musical to ever be written about Nazi Germany, is a production that embodies the two classic faces of theatre: one with a wide, ridiculous grin, the other with a deep, despairing frown. In the beginning, the play could be described as sassy. Post-intermission, however, the audience feels the truth of the protagonist Clifford’s words: “The party is over.” Throughout the play, one can feel both the seediness and the illusion of complete freedom infiltrating “Cabaret’s” Berlin. If nothing else, the girls of the Kit Kat Club emphasize this by both their lack of costume (they perform in what seems to be basic white lingerie; there are no costumes for them in this cabaret) and their appearance of sexual freedom. It is an illusion that must be kept up. They seem to depend on it being kept up, even when Germany deteriorates. Perhaps the only characters who are not either part of or taken by this illusion are Fraulein Schneider, the old woman who rents out a room to our protagonist, and Herr Shultz, her sweetheart, whose relationship most clearly defines the effect of the Nazis and who are taken in by political illusions instead of the illusions of the cabaret. Katie Owens, playing Fraulein Schneider, falls into her role very naturally, as does her suitor, played by Craig Wells. If Sally Bowles and the girls of the Kit Kat Club are the body of this play, these two are the heart. Throughout the play they are equally heart warming and heart breaking. Speaking of Sally Bowles, this Berlin Bombshell, played by Taryn Noelle, couldn’t have been more well cast. Her accent and manner was flawless. She captured the room just as a real cabaret star would. Her character, while able to brighten the stage with a seemingly open and bubbly personality, is also deeply tragic from the first moment we have alone with her. Clifford Bradshaw, played by Samuel Durant Hunter, is just the right compliment for her. He is a strange character, because while he is caught up in the illusions of Berlin, he is neither aware of how false they are nor is he a part of them. He always seems to be swimming back to himself, trying not to become to lost in the chaos, and wanting to take Sally with him. It is hard not to emphasize with Hunter’s portrayal of this struggling character. Perhaps the only criticism of this play is that the Kit Kat Club simply needs more. When there are characters onstage that don’t embody in every way its raciness, its showy-nature, it takes away from the illusion they are trying to create and lessens the effect of these scenes when juxtaposed with the grim reality. The actors in these scenes should throw themselves into every gesture, every word. Every moment should be a show within itself. As it is, there are moments that simply don’t have enough gusto for a cabaret. Fortunately, these moments are relatively few and far outnumbered by scenes of great strength and merit. As mentioned earlier, some notable performances came from the charismatic Taryn Noelle, and the subtle but effective portrayal of Clifford by Samuel Durant Hunter. Katie Owens and Craig Wells were both charming and impressive in their natural chemistry. Edward C. Nagel, who played Ernst Ludwig, played a strong and well-rounded character, as did Leandra Brixey as Fraulein Kost. “Cabaret,” which in its surface seems to be a showy performance of little meaning, is surprising in its portrayal of a historical and devastating time. It is truly a work with two faces.