Frank Theatre has opened its 22nd season with a gutsy and – well, frank interpretation of the now classic Broadway musical, Cabaret. Stripped down to its both smarmy and beautiful story, and set in a near-perfect environment at the Centennial Showboat on Harriet Island, this production immerses you in the tawdry world of Berlin’s cabaret culture as the Nazi’s rise to power begins.
This show has staying power to a large extent because of the disturbing message at its core: we know that “the party” continued and much of the world refused to acknowledge the terrible truth about the Nazi’s campaign against the Jews. “Life is a cabaret,” indeed! Director Wendy Knox uses this dark fact to make the debauchery of cabaret culture just that much sadder and the play’s personal stories that much more poignant.
But there are plenty of laughs, in large part because Bradley Greenwald played an exquisite and delightfully depraved Emcee, embracing all that was other worldly about this iconic character and showing us a tremendously good time – right up to his own moment of truth. He was simply too marvelous!
Sara Richardson’s Sally Bowles was adorable and naughty, bringing us to the edge of our seats with the overwhelming irony in the “Cabaret” reprise. Her acting is amazing; her singing was serviceable and her dancing barely so. But since her character is fired, perhaps it’s appropriate that Sally is just not very good at her job. It seemed to be part of creating a world that was perfectly believable.
Max Wojtanowicz as Cliff played the foil to pretty much the rest of the characters – a little odd since Cliff is supposedly drawn to the Cabaret, but in this production he barely acknowledges his own presumed proclivities.
But Melissa Hart (who originated the role of Sally Bowles on Broadway) as Fraulein Schnieder was positively breathtaking. Her emotionally charged voice in “What Would You Do?” was so moving that the entire theater was silent but for that song. You could go to this show just to see this number and it would be worth it. Patrick Bailey played an endearing Herr Schultz, especially paired with Hart – a dynamic that powers the emotional content of the show and draws the relatively shallow relationship of Cliff and Sally in sharp relief.
Knox has chosen a diverse cast to otherwise populate this bizarre environment. They’re not only incredibly good, they make us forget how demanding this show must be – and wow, are they an interesting bunch! This fact, and the wonder of hearing a show of such power acoustically, makes for a special and memorable night out. There’s nothing Hollywood about this show. It’s live theater all the way and I absolutely loved it.
Cabaret runs through March 27. Don’t miss it!