Putting a new spin on a classic musical is by no means an easy endeavor. As audience members, we know and love the story of Cabaret (book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb) and with each new production we crave creativity; we search for that unique spin that we have not previously experienced. This Shaw Festival production succeeds wildly at making the show as shimmery and entertaining as we envision it to be, with unexpected visual touches that give this classic some unfamiliarity. The eeriness that is ever-preset in the text comes to life on stage under the direction of Peter Hinton, the musical direction of Paul Sportelli and the choreography of Denise Clarke.
The acting and musical talents of the entire company are phenomenal, as I had expected. The relationship between Sally Bowles (Deborah Hay) and Cliff Bradshaw (Gray Powell) is passionate and fleeting – they stay true to the nature of these characters. The same goes for Fräulein Schneider (Corrine Koslo) and Herr Schultz (Benedict Campbell) who hit all the right notes and break your heart at all the right moments. Koslo maintains the persona of the wise old woman, dogged in her beliefs, while Campbell’s optimism clashes with her realism, leaving their broken relationship on the stage floor, as the Nazis maliciously take over. Acknowledgment must be given to Juan Chioran as well, for a stellar performance as the mysterious Emcee. He beautifully blurs the lines between French and German throughout, the audience not quite understanding who he truly is until the Nazis begin taking control.
However, despite the aforementioned successes, I must say that fight choreography rarely intrigues me and in this case, my lack of enthusiasm remains. There must be a more strategic way to mask the fact that the punches and kicks given to Bradshaw are nowhere near the actor’s body, and the sound of impact is tragically delayed.
Aside from the acting, the real deciding factor in determining the success of this production stems from the costumes of the ensemble, designed by Judith Bowden, and the choreography by Denise Clarke. We know that the Kit Kat Club is a symbol for war, foreshadowing the Nazis’ impending seizure of control. We receive this message with clarity, through the way Max (Lorne Kennedy) runs the club, however, the costumes and choreography turn this factor up a notch, demonstrating Hitler’s power through movement and aesthetics, as well.
Bowden’s costumes are very carnivalesque, with each member of the ensemble often sporting a hard plastic hair piece, making them resemble a theatre of marionettes. In addition, Clarke cleverly incorporates mechanical and robotic dance numbers into her routines, accentuating the notion of the Nazis and the German citizens becoming puppets, under the rule of Hitler. In the high-energy setting of the Kit Kat Club, these estranging dance moves add an uncanny element to the piece that is fresh and unexpected.
Keeping with the mechanical aesthetic theme, the set design by Michael Gianfrancesco is absolutely awe-inducing. The set design features rotating circular stairs that reach the height of the proscenium arch, completely encompassing the entire world of the play. These stairs turn into the Kit Kat Club, back to Bradshaw’s apartment, to Herr Schultz fruit market, to everything in between, through use of a simple rotation, adding a curtain, or some boxes of fruit.
All in all, if you want to see Cabaret like you have never seen it before, this Shaw Festival production will give you that revitalized experience that you desire. A fresh and engaging must-see musical.
Cabaret is playing at Shaw’s Festival Theatre until October 26th. Tickets $24-$113. For tickets and more information, visit www.shawfest.com.