CABARETBook by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander and Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Based on the Play by John Van Druten and Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Director – Derek Whitener
Musical Director – Rebecca Lowrey
Choreographer – Brandon Harvey
Set Designer – Kevin Brown
Costume Designer – Victor Newman Brockwell
Lighting Designer – Scott W. Davis
Sound Designer – Danica Bergeron
Emcee – Mikey Abrams
Kit Kat Girls
Rosie – Beth Lipton
Lulu – Katherine Cline
Frenchie – Megan McCullough
Texas – Christina Hoth
Fritzie – Marilyn Setu
Helga – Mindy Neuendorff
Kit Kat Boys
Bobby – Aaron Jakaboski
Victor – Travis Ponikiewski
Hans – Andrew Friedrich
Herman - Logan Coley Broker
Sally Bowles – Rachel Robertson
Clifford Bradshaw – Billy Betsill
Ernst Ludwig – David Vaughn
Customs Official – Travis Ponikiewski
Fraulein Schneider – Elizabeth Bontley
Fraulein Kost – Lindsay Hayward
Sailor – Aaron Jakaboski
Herr Schultz – Lon D. Barrera
Max – Brian Christiansen
Rudy – Travis Ponikiewski
Gorilla – Marilyn Setu
German Youth – Jad Saxton
Reviewed Performance: 10/3/2014
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The show takes place from 1929-1931 during the Nazi rise to power in Berlin. A young American novelist, Cliff Bradshaw, gets drawn into the city’s nightlife by an English performer, Sally Bowles. Slowly though, the exciting night life begins to crack and politics come seeping in. Cliff plans to whisk Sally away to the safety of America, while those left behind must live with the consequences of their choices. This is all set against the backdrop of a seedy nightclub in Berlin where a bawdy Emcee and his Kit Kat Club performers work to make the audience forget their troubles.
Every technical element of Cabaret at Runway Theatre is astounding. From an incomparable lighting design by Scott W. Davis to masterful choreography by Brandon Harvey to sexy and period appropriate costumes by Victor Newman Brockwell, there is always something incredible happening on the stage.
There are many astonishing lighting effects throughout the show, including heavy haze effects to recreate the smoky nature of the night club. The haze also enhances the beams of light as they cross the stage. Most interesting is the anachronistic use of LEDs behind the bandstand wall. They show through the white plastic used to decorate the platform and dance and change colors along with the music. This element is fun to watch, if not historically accurate.
The lighting is also useful in transitioning from scenes of regular life to club performances. Great dramatic effects (back lighting, foot lighting, etc.) and colors are used in the club performances while a simpler, more general wash is given to standard scenes. A collaborative effort between lighting and choreography, tiny LEDs under the dancers’ chairs during “Mein Herr” create a fantastic moment and the illusion of ghostly visages singing to the audience.
Brandon Harvey's choreography is by far the best I have witnessed all year. The opening number, “Willkommen,” had the audience applauding half way through with its dazzling aerial moves. All group numbers, including the aforementioned “Mein Herr,” have enthralling moments of synchronization punctuated with individual moves from the dancers. However, Harvey is not afraid to put some physical comedy into his choreography. The touching but whimsical “It Couldn't Please Me More (The Pineapple Song)” has the Emcee mocking the moment shared by Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz while the Kit Kat Girls dance in the aisle enticing the audience with their own pineapples.
Costumes by Victor Newman Brockwell are great and period accurate. They are reminiscent of the 1998 Broadway revival. The Emcee's opening outfit looks like a near stitch-for-stitch replica. For all the sexiness and lack of clothing in the Kit Kat Club, those outside of those scenes, like Fraulein Schneider, Herr Schultz and straight-laced Cliff Bradshaw, are well clothed. Schneider is appropriately frumpy in her baggy dresses, while and Herr Schultz is well kempt in slacks and a cardigan sweater. Both are in neutral blue and brown hues. Bradshaw is always wearing a tie. He is buttoned up and conservative in both character and costume.
Kevin Brown's set miraculously fits into Runway's space. Runway has almost completely removed their backstage area to accommodate the platforms the band plays on. This does give opportunity for three door entrances as well as two staircases for performers to utilize, as well as a balcony upstage center.
Music for the show is thankfully mixed well enough for the audience to hear the performers. The music is slightly louder than the performers' voices but not enough to drown out the words, as was the case in Runway's previous musical. Standout numbers like “Married” and “Cabaret” are gripping in their performance. “Married”, for its harmonies and soft tone, is a welcome respite from the franticness of the rest of the show, and Elizabeth Bontley and Lon Barrera perform it beautifully. “Cabaret,” out of context, is an upbeat song. However, Rachel Robertson's performance, with a wavering voice and “deer in the headlights” demeanor, truly understands Sally Bowles’ fragile emotional state as she sings.
Accents in this production are all over the place quality-wise. Rachel Robertson’s English accent is fine, but the German accents from Aaron Jakaboski, Travis Ponikiewski, Lindsay Hayward and Lon Barrera are of varying degrees. To an untrained ear they are satisfactory and sound like basic German. Be that as it may, a dialect coach would be a great asset for this cast.
Acting in this production is superb. Mikey Abrams' Emcee is sensual and impulsive. Abrams uses an accent well enough to not break the aura of being in Germany. He dances and is playful with the crowd and performers around him. After intermission, Abrams grabs a volunteer from the audience and improvises a conversation with the person in character. It is fantastic.
Sally Bowles, a British singer just looking to have fun, is played by Rachel Robertson, who plays both ends of Sally's emotional spectrum perfectly. She can jump, dance, smile and squeal with glee like no other. In the end, the audience's heart breaks with Sally's as Robertson sobs uncontrollably and forces herself to put on an obvious fake happy face for the number “Cabaret.”
Billy Betsill might have the easiest job in the company. Playing Cliff, he gets to keep a standard American accent while playing a mostly even keel character. Betsill is great at monitoring his character’s frustration level, getting slightly more irritated as Cliff Bradshaw slowly realizes what is happening in Berlin around him with each scene. It's easy to sense the anxiety and urgency as Betsill speaks quickly of the plan to leave Berlin. He also pulls at the audience's empathy with his heart wrenching goodbye to Sally, a perfectly paced scene.
Elizabeth Bontley and Lon Barrera make a wonderful couple as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. They both play elders who act like giddy school children not knowing how to court each other. Their stolen glances and harmonizing during the music is endearing. Bontley is more of a performer than a singer but her performance is so strong in “So What” and “What Would You Do?”, it fits perfectly in this adroit production. Lon Barrera plays doting well as Herr Schultz visits Fraulein Schneider. In the second act, as a Jewish man watching the Nazi's come to power and seeing this political movement upset his personal relationship, Barrera nervous shakes are convincing and he pleads splendidly.
All of the Kit Kat Girls and Boys turn in marvelous performances as well. A talented group of dancers comprise the Kit Kat Girls while some of the boys play in the band. They are part of the Emcee's always watchful group, giving the entire musical a sort of Big Brother feel.
As a bonus, during intermission, the band takes a short break but comes back to play cabaret style smooth jazz covers of pop songs, like “All About the Bass” and “Thrift Shop” by Mackelmore. The uncredited singer is an excellent addition. It's fun and well done. This practice ensures the audience is all in their seats by the time intermission is over because nobody wants to miss a second of this show.
I guarantee you will have a good time seeing Cabaret at Runway Theatre in Grapevine. It is a spectacle to behold with top notch performances and incredible lighting effects. As the Emcee says, “Leave your troubles outside!”
[Correction: an earlier version had an incorrect time period for the musical]
215 North Dooley St.
Grapevine, TX 76051
Runs through October 26th
Friday-Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $20.00 and $15.00 for seniors (60+) and students.
For tickets and information, go to http://www.runwaytheatre.com or call their box office at (817) 488-4842.