Saturday, June 15, 2013

" We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful..." Cabaret revival sets up shop on Park Road

Proclaims the Emcee, Brendan Norton, as the Kit Kat Club calls us into it's dark,smokey, and red lit Berlin nightclub of the late 1920's. Where once inside we are willingly, or unwillingly, presented a front row seat  to challenge our social norms and  secret perversions. A world where we surrender to our  voyeuristic tendencies letting our eyes and ears feast in it's glorious decadence of revelry, gender bending sexuality,  personal freedom, and expression. The Kit Kat Club is an  exaggerated and surreal world where we all pledge to "live and let live"  but it is also a world that, tragically, is on on the cusp of unstoppable political and anti-Semitic  brutality. We the viewers bare witness to this unfolding display of art and morality set against one of the greatest human cruelties of  all time in the summer production of Cabaret at Playhouse On Park in West Hartford.

If you are starting  to Goggle  Cabaret stop typing right now.  Please allow yourself to experience live theater that will be compelling and entertaining as it is erotic and  shocking. This production  runs for six weeks and will quickly become a must see for any lover of high quality entertainment in the Hartford area, and actually I am sure a few folks from the city will be up for this one as well.

With it's jazz infused foot tapping ragtime Kander and Ebb  score colored with lyrics full of sexual innuendos, insights, and  paradoxes that still ring true to this day this production will entertain as much as it provokes you to look at the world differently as you leave the theater.

There is also a nod to Bob Fosse's direction of the movie in which the audience is part of the show as the character's willfully offer a seductive smile, a lick of their lips while your spouse looks  the other way, a knowing  wink, or if you are  very lucky a complete bird's eyes view of  a dancer's derriere. All this contributing to an authenticity that is fun as it is  provocative.  This begins even before the show and was quite fun and set the stage for the unexpected. The cast, in character , mingled with the theater goers in a Kit Kat style lounge in the " lobby". Where Texas, Lulu, and Hans, scantly dressed, interacted with the audience. Due to my own inability to speak French I was prevented from flirting with the lovely Frenchie before the show. Even if I could converse with her she clearly preferred the soft kisses of Hermann to my inquires.

The cast is excellent. Brendan Norton as the Emcee is a not force of nature but a force of human nature as he modernizes the Tony and Oscar winning role that Joel Grey created. With his goth influences dominated by a long black leather trench coat, Doc Martin  boots, and a black widow tattoo he commands and challenges your senses. His gender bending bisexuality  seduces you as well as his Jokeresque presence always just off stage with his glowing white face makeup floating in the shadows. Always watching the other characters on stage not with a look judgement or damnation but with a Cheshire cat grin of approval and amazement, his eyes fully open, as he bears witness.
Mr. Norton is really the heart of this show and his heart beats with a  passion to  push things to the edge and push the audience out of their comfort zone.

Also to see the Emcee in a Can Can line is a show highlight.

Now Ms.Erin Lindsey Krom has even a bigger challenge in performing the role of Sally Bowles, knowing that Liza Minnelli's portrayal is etched in our cultural DNA from the film version, and she is quite successful. This Sally is a snappy working class girl who is well aware of her shortcomings and moral ambiguities and has no shame or remorse about her choices. She is an empowered woman living in the moment using her skills of sexual prowess, voice, and passion for decadence to be her compass.
She excels in the numbers " Don't Tell Mama" and " Maybe this Time"  and she performs a moving rendition of the " Cabaret Revival" which she laces with sarcasm, bitterness, and disdain at the end of the show.

The characters Fraulein Schneider, played sweetly by Kathleen Huber, and Herr Schultz, portrayed by Damian Buzzerio, are the other heart of this show. As they  become the vehicle for the weight of the Nazi regime on all their lives, with  them especially be  scarred and changed by it forever. Their debut on " It Couldn't  Please Me More"  was tender as it was bitter sweet.

Jake Loewenthal as Cliff is both innocent and worldly as he is an openly bisexual man wandering around Europe in his pilgrimage to find the inspiration for his next "great" novel. He is seduced by the city of Berlin, Sally, the Kit Kat Club, and Bobby but also is the first to acknowledge the reality of the crushing  blow the Nazi's rise to  power will be and how it will change everything for all them.

The rest of the ensemble is fun, brash, and vivacious with Ashley Ford and Tao Hguyen standing out.

The staging by director Sean Harris is both efficient as it is effective. Lighting is low and seedy and the two doors on stage are continually used to great comedic and  dramatic effect representing the two worlds, the Kit Kat Club and Nazi Germany. As the character go in and out of these two worlds, which both coexisted for a brief time, this can not go on forever and it becomes painfully obvious how deep the Nazi's grasp into all aspects of society had become.

The choreography by Darlene Zoller is stylized, captivating, and vaudevillian with  numerous nods to Fosse's mark on this work.

Not to diminish the atrocities of  this era at all but one could draw a similarity to the current debate over the rights for marriage equality for the LGBT community. As sadly many of the truths in Cabaret still have an eerie resonance to our view through the camera shutter today.
Seeing this show may inspire you to think about that.

As the Emcee noted the world needs more of " Leben und leben lassen" or " Live and Let Live"
Playing through July 21st at the PlayHouse on Park
                                          Erin Lindsey Krom and Brendan Norton

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