Cabaret by Hennepin Theatre Trust, performing at the Orpheum Theatre

Randy Harrison in Cabaret. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Randy Harrison in Cabaret. Photo by Joan Marcus.

They’re all there, the famous and iconic Cabaret songs: “Willkommen,” “Don’t Tell Mama,” the anthemic “Cabaret.” John Kander (still with us) and Fred Ebb (who died in 2004) are/were masters of American musical theater. Kiss Of The Spider Woman, Chicago and of course this play, their 1966 masterwork. (Cabaret, Book by Joe Masteroff, is based on a novel by Christopher Isherwood and the play I Am A Camera)

This Cabaret (at the Orpheum, through Oct 23) doesn’t skimp on the music. The arrangements are hot and loud, the singers first rate, and the rich material comes flying vividly though. If you need a reason to plunk down the large dollars (tickets are $39 to $139), well, here it is. The music grabbed us by our throats. The opening night audience went crazy.

There are some nifty performances. I was especially taken with Benjamin Eakeley as Cliff. Lanky, earnest and intelligent – dorkiness is a huge danger with this role – Eakeley took charge of every scene he was in and gave Cabaret real substance. Also excellent is Mary Gordon Murray as Frau Schneider. She sings beautifully and has a sweet and quiet presence that I found compelling. I loved her.

So why doesn’t this Cabaret soar? As the Emcee, Randy Harrison was… okay. Pretty good in fact. Lean, tattoo’d, with an evil grin and deliciously nasty charisma. A sweet voice that could suddenly bark and slash. The way he insinuated himself into nearly every scene was quite effective.

But the Kit-Kat Girls disappointed. Repetitive (lots of dull rhythmic butt-swaying and semi-sexy stomping) and predictable. The fact that the Kit-Kat Klub scenes were staged on a high-above-the-stage platform didn’t help.

Andrea Goss as Sally was a major problem. Goss can sing. Really sing: “Cabaret,” “Maybe This Time.” Wowdow. But her herky-jerky accent, her folded-in-on-itself energy, her non-Orpheum softness (this is a theater requiring brassiness and over-the-top zest) left me cold. Maybe those sitting in the first ten rows got a real performance; I didn’t.

But mostly, Cabaret felt tired and bloodless. It fit poorly into the cavernous Orpheum. Much of it felt under-rehearsed. There were sound issues. All this is odd, since this production, by NYC’s famed Roundabout Theatre, began in 2014. They’ve had plenty of time, one would think, to iron out the kinks.

So… what to say. This is not a terrible production. It’s expensive for sure, but when will you ever again have a chance to see this masterpiece? If you saw Latté Da’s marvelous production (HWTS’s review can be read here) in 2014, count yourself lucky and save your dough. But if you didn’t, well, think seriously about seeing this Cabaret.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His The Sisters Eight will be presented at First Stage Milwaukee. His screenplays, A Slaying Song Tonight and The Deflowering Of Father Trimleigh are under option. Please visit his informational website.


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