You'll have to understand that this review comes with a certain bias, considering Kander and Ebb's Cabaret sits high atop my list of most beloved musicals. That being said, Stageworks Toronto receives applause for their production of this timeless musical epic. While the production has many noteworthy aspects to it, this applause is conditional.
The setting predominately shifts through the Kit Kat Klub and focuses on the love affair of Sally Bowles (Shai Tannyan) and Clifford Bradshaw (Hugh Ritchie). Multiple narratives are also established through the doomed love affair of Bradshaw's landlord, Fräulein Schneider (Deva Neely) and a Jewish shopkeeper, Herr Schultz (Buck Delaney). One cannot forget, and certainly won't forget, one of Fräulein Schneider's provocative tenants, Fräulein Kost (Melly Magrath), who provides a great deal of comic relief with her ongoing entourage of sailors.
With all of these subplots in mind, the show is historically placed during the buildup to one of mankind's darkest times: Germany, 1931. While the ensemble’s energy was courageously kept throughout, the production was unsuccessful in creating a sense of looming fear based on the historical events unfolding throughout the play. Yes, director Michael Yaneff kept it relevant in our contemporary world, but only because the vital element of transportation was absent. There was minimal spectacle with an ongoing reminder of our current geographical location, George Ignatieff Theatre.
Similarly, Yaneff's inclusion of nudity throughout the play was compelling, but required more grit in the movement and flow of character interaction. The exposure was not enough to make a statement.
The show was nevertheless entertaining. Jean-Paul Parker's portrayal of the Emcee was engaging from beginning to end. Serving as the production's official commentator, Parker provided a series of entertaining performances, notably "Two Ladies" and "If You Could See Her.” Although Parker's character lacked originality at times, the male leads wholeheartedly carried the show. Hugh Ritchie gave a stimulating and empathetic performance as Clifford Bradshaw, paralleled by Eric Synnott's portrayal of Ernst Ludwig; the only element of Nazi terror throughout the show. Buck Delaney gave audiences a loveable, genuine character as Herr Shultz, a feature predominately missing in the production's leading lady.
Shai Tannyan's portrayal of Sally Bowles was not demanding enough to invoke the desperate love required to capture the character's true nature. Tannyan proved vocal strength at times, but suffered in those moments due to a lack of emotional connection.
The female ensemble was strong in performance power and energy, but lacked individuality. Deva Neely gave a dedicated performance as Fräulein Schneider, just as Magrath committed to the role of Fräulein Kost. While these two provided for great presence, Tannyan's attempt at securing an accent was not enough to sell Sally Bowles.
The orchestra was well synchronized and exercised each note beautifully, but their onstage presence was minimally distracting and provided for limited opportunities in both staging and design. Camille Dziewurski's choreography was well-suited to the space and highlighted historical accuracy through movement and combination. Set and costume designer Michelle Tracey's colour and selection perfectly exuded the time period; however, her scenic design fell tremendously short, precisely because there was no set. Using furniture and humble props throughout, the action was not enough to translate and show relevancy. In full understanding of the spatial limitations, less was not more in this case. Natasha Kornienko's lighting design was continually off-focus, thus unsuccessful in isolating the climactic moments.
Stageworks' Cabaret runs until July 26 at the George Ignatieff Theatre, University of Toronto. For tickets and more information, visit www.stageworkstoronto.com.