Cabaret has always been a troubling musical. Inside the Kit Kat Club, life is beautiful, but what is happening outside is anything but. The political climate doesn’t seem to be at the center of the story, until it suddenly is. Yet several of the characters still dismiss the importance of the rise of Naziism, even as their lives are affected. The lead characters – American writer Cliff Bradshow and British cabaret singer Sally Bowles – are affected only because he cares about the political environment and she doesn’t. The other couple, Fraulein Schneider (a landlady) and Herr Schultz (a fruit dealer), is directly affected, since he is Jewish. Their engagement party is the dramatic turning point, as Cliff discovers the cause his friend Ernst has him collecting money from Paris for is the Nazi party. Indeed, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is the strongest number in the show. One of the problems I have with the show is that Act Two doesn’t hold any particular surprises. Sally continues to ignore the outside world, despite Cliff’s entreaties to come with him to America. Fraulein Schneider can’t go through with marrying a Jew. And Herr Schultz continues to believe that this will all blow over. Signature did make an interesting choice in reprising the Jewish girl in the gorilla suit from "If You Could See Her" in the ending, having her beaten by the Nazis as the finale clashes. There have been various approaches to the ending over the years and I thought this one was particularly subtle and effective.
One thing I was disappointed in was that the issue of Cliff’s sexuality is repeatedly hinted at, but never really followed up on. He does seem very into Sally, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of chemistry between them. And it’s clear he has no illusions about her. So is she a cover for his homosexual tendencies, which are brought up repeatedly?
As for the performances, Wesley Taylor was effective as the Emcee, a role that demands a certain level of creepiness and smarminess. Barrett Wilbert Weed was well up to the challenges of playing Sally Bowles. The performer I want to particularly single out is Bobby Smith, a Signature regular, who was quite chilling as Ernst.
Overall, Signature did their usual good job with this familiar musical. You’ve got another week to see it if you happen to be in the area.
Look for a lot more theatre commentary returning around the end of October.