The reviews are in for “Cabaret”

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The cast of Frank Theatre’s “Cabaret,” on stage at the Centennial Showboat on Harriet Island.

Frank Theatre is known for taking its shows to locations that help underscore the mood of the play. For its production of Cabaret, it’s moved to the Centennial Showboat on Harriet Island, and converted the main stage hall to the “Kit Kat Club.” Thinking of climbing on board? Check out these reviews – click on the links to read the full review.

From Bev Wolfe at TC Daily Planet:

…I have seen Cabaret performed on stage twice before but, despite a slow start, this production is the most compelling of the three. Under Wendy Knox’s direction, the performance concentrates on two couples whose romance is intruded upon by the growing Nazi menace. The social pathology of Weimar Germany initially takes on a playful eroticism that turns ominous; portraying the enticing nature of evil.

Written by Joe Masteroff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret originally opened on Broadway in 1966. Since then it has been brought back twice in two Broadway revivals and made into a movie by Bob Fosse staring Liza Minnelli. For those unfamiliar with the musical, the story centers on Cliff Bradshaw. Cliff, an American, is a would-be writer who goes to Berlin during the 1930s to seek inspiration for his writing. On the way there he is befriended by a disingenuous German named Ernst Ludwig and rents a room from an older woman named Fraulein Schneider. On his first night, he meets a young English woman named Sally Bowles, a performer at the seedy Kit Kat Club. Another boarder at the rooming house is Herr Schultz, an elderly Jewish fruit vendor. When Sally’s relationship with the Kit Kat Club owner ends, she is both jobless and homeless. Her solution is to persuade Cliff to let her share his room. A romance ensues between her and Cliff, as well as one between Schneider and Schultz.

The specter of Nazism pervades the show in the guise of the Kit Kat Club and its Master of Ceremonies. Seduced by the hedonism and loose sexuality found at the club, Cliff and Sally are oblivious to the growing control of the Nazis. Living a more proper life, Schneider and Schultz also initially discount and ignore the growing influence of the Nazis. In the end, the overshadowing evil dooms both couples.

Once the show warms up, the club ensemble keeps the show moving effortlessly from scene to scene…The Centennial Showboat provides an appropriate vaudeville atmosphere for the show’s decadent cabaret style. The sparse set design by Joseph Stanley works well as scenes shift between the boarding house and the Kit Kat Club. Whether you have never seen Cabaret or have seen it umpteen times, Frank Theatre’s production merits your attention.

From Graydon Royce at Star Tribune:

The Emcee has commandeered the “Cabaret,” and thank goodness for that. He had always haunted the edges of this awkward musical about Weimar Germany, but a 1987 Broadway revival pushed this enigmatic waif out of the shadows. He stands — still something of a blank mirror — at the center of a culture teetering on disaster.

Bradley Greenwald consumes this delicious avatar of decadence in Frank Theatre’s production of “Cabaret” at the Centennial Showboat in St. Paul. Less creepy than Joel Grey’s original, Greenwald’s Emcee is funny and charming — insouciantly poking fun at himself and his club mates. Sexy, dangerous chorus girls and rouged, dandy chorus boys all respond to his prompt.

With Greenwald at the center, the Kit Kat Klub musical numbers dominate Wendy Knox’s staging. Music director Michael Croswell and choreographer Bonnie Zimering Bottoms create the palette, and Knox squeezes more flesh and bone onto the small Showboat stage than seems possible. Kathy Kohl’s costumes serve a dual purpose, festooning these oddballs and turning them into human scenery.

…Knox gets all this stuff to stand up on its hind legs, driving through the dreary scenes and getting us back to club life. And at the center of it is the Emcee, who in his final image will raise the hair on your neck.

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Bradley Greenwald is the Emcee in Frank Theatre’s production of Cabaret

From Dominic P. Papatola at Pioneer Press:

Sally Bowles musically wonders “What good is sitting alone in your room?” in the title song of the musical “Cabaret.” Rather than a glib query, the question takes on more ominous overtones in the Frank Theatre production.

Director Wendy Knox, opening her theater’s 22nd season with performances on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat, offers an intentionally scruffy-looking production of the dark Kander and Ebb musical set in Germany near the end of the Weimar Republic. Inside the Kit Kat Club, there’s a sense of forced, almost desperate gaiety as showgirls bump and grind in torn stockings and tired expressions and the boys cavort, rouged and hard-eyed. This isn’t the stylized, heroin-chic look of the Broadway revival that played the Twin Cities in 1999. Rather than dancing as hard as they can to avoid thinking about the end of the world, everyone in this staging seems to be painfully aware that the good times are nearing a sickening end. Their debaucherous reveries, then, are fraught and tainted.

It’s a subtle difference, but an effective choice, and it permeates every aspect of Knox’s production, which titillates, teases and finally torments. Rooted at the center of it all is Bradley Greenwald’s solid and splendidly sung performance as the Emcee. The character is ubiquitous — wearing hose and heels in the chorus line one moment and appearing as a stern conductor the next, all the while acting as a kind of Greek chorus who doesn’t so much narrate as illustrate.

…Sadly, the other leads don’t provide as much support. Sara Richardson acts the snot out of the role of chanteuse Sally Bowles and is spot on in projecting a forced optimism that belies her desperation. But Richardson’s singing voice is a limited instrument — even for a character who probably is not much of a singer anyway — and when she flats out (with disconcerting consistency), she can’t fully construct the fantasy necessary to successfully carry the role.

Max Wojtanowicz presents an opposite problem as the struggling American novelist Cliff Bradshaw. His singing voice is sure enough, but his charisma-free characterization is such a limp noodle that it’s hard to see why Sally would fall for him.

…The uneven performances make Frank’s “Cabaret” something of a bumpy ride, diminishing but not obliterating the dark charms of a classic.

From Janet Preus at Howwastheshow.com:

This show has staying power to a large extent because of the disturbing message at its core: we know that “the party” continued and much of the world refused to acknowledge the terrible truth about the Nazi’s campaign against the Jews. “Life is a cabaret,” indeed! Director Wendy Knox uses this dark fact to make the debauchery of cabaret culture just that much sadder and the play’s personal stories that much more poignant.

But there are plenty of laughs, in large part because Brandley Greenwald played an exquisite and delightfully depraved Emcee, embracing all that was other worldly about this iconic character and showing us a tremendously good time – right up to his own moment of truth. He was simply too marvelous!

…Max Wojtanowicz as Cliff played the foil to pretty much the rest of the characters – a little odd since Cliff is supposedly drawn to the Cabaret, but in this production he barely acknowledges his own presumed proclivities.

But Melissa Hart (who originated the role of Sally Bowles on Broadway) as Fraulein Schnieder was positively breathtaking. Her emotionally charged voice in “What Would You Do?” was so moving that the entire theater was silent but for that song. You could go to this show just to see this number and it would be worth it. Patrick Bailey played an endearing Herr Schultz, especially paired with Hart – a dynamic that powers the emotional content of the show and draws the relatively shallow relationship of Cliff and Sally in sharp relief.

Knox has chosen a diverse cast to otherwise populate this bizarre environment. They’re not only incredibly good, they make us forget how demanding this show must be – and wow, are they an interesting bunch! This fact, and the wonder of hearing a show of such power acoustically, makes for a special and memorable night out. There’s nothing Hollywood about this show. It’s live theater all the way and I absolutely loved it.

So, have you seen Frank Theatre’s production of “Cabaret?” If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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