A match made in Thespic heaven: Theatre Latté Da, our premier purveyor of music theater, known for its non-treacly and trenchant intelligence and its astonishing ability to produce super-high-quality theater on a strict budget. And Cabaret, (John) Kander and (Fred) Ebb‘s great masterpiece, set in the early 30s, in the Kit Kat Klub, where raunchy “beauty” (“Even ze orchestra is beautiful”) holds sway even as, outside, Weimar Berlin descends into Nazi madness. Kander and Ebb’s songs (“Willkommen,” “Maybe This Time”, the iconic “Cabaret”) amaze and the story, though a touch dated (more on this below) packs a punch.
Also, the show has been mounted in the Pantages, that beautifully rehabbed and perfectly sized jewel box in downtown Minneapolis, where the seats are comfortable and the legroom ample. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.
OK. All this is good to be sure, but here’s absolutely the best thing about Cabaret: Tyler Michaels. Wow. Michaels plays the Emcee with a combination of sweetness and nastiness, of innocnece and delicious wickedness, with delightful smiling innuendo. He’s tall, lean and handsome. Well-muscled and acrobatic. His voice intoxicates: his youthful (Michaels is young) tenor contrasts perfectly with the decadently wonderful music provided by the two composers. Michaels smiles rather than snarls; in “Two Ladies” he grins, “Und I’m ze only man,” and it makes us howl. His performance is a star turn, really. I won’t give the specifics of his opening entrance; prepare to have your socks knocked off. Here is your reason to see this show.
The other actors also thrill. As Sally Bowles, Kira Lace Hawkins seemed at first to be suffering from opening night jitters, but her performance gathered steam and she did the composers proud with her powerful belt combined with a understated and delicate portrait of the Kit Kat Klub’s star. Her relationship with Clifford (the sweetly goofy Sean Dooley) was affecting. Sally Wingert and James Michel Detmar play the older lovers, caught in, and destroyed by, the descending horror of Nazism. Lovely work.
And of course “ze beautiful boys und girls” of the Klub. They flaunt their skimpy costumes (prudes better stay home) and they dance and sing with gustoful skill. Especial kudos are due costumist Rich Hamson.
Ahem. Please feel free to ignore the following critical paragraph (I can’t help myself):
The portrait of Nazism is dated. When Cabaret was first produced in 1966, the Nazi material had an edge. It shocked. There was a sense of real discovery. But now the subject has been thoroughly addressed in many many books and movies. We know they were nasty, violent, that they murdered Jews and destroyed lives. We know Herr Schultz is kidding himself when he says, “They won’t hurt me, I’m a German.” What was exploratory in 1966 now feels exploitational.
Ah, but who cares if the story is dated. It works, and Kander and Ebb’s music is timeless. The production (helmed by the inimitable Peter Rothstein with music direction by the estimable Denise Prosek) soars. The peformances delight. I and my lovely companion had a marvelous time at Cabaret, and so will you.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.