Cabaret plods between great musical numbers

There are actually two stage shows at the Guild Hall: Cabaret, the variety show and Cabaret, the play.

The variety show is a blast with fantastic music and great dance performances that are raunchy and fun.

The play itself, however, only briefly rises to the level of a story that the audience can care about.

But that is not to say the actors did a poor job. Indeed, Dorothy Martin’s Fräulein Schneider provides poignant and nuanced performances. She and Herr Schultz (played sweetly by Doug Neill), her suitor, are a delight to watch together.

And Elaine Schiman is surprisingly good at portraying the wily prostitute, Fräulein Köst, a character who provides both comic relief and a tragic catalyst.

Unfortunately, these three share a subplot that had its best moments trampled by a main plot that plodded between musical numbers.

It is easy to blame this on Tristin Hopper, who was clearly out of his league portraying the American writer Cliff Bradshaw. He is all reaction and never makes his presence dominate the stage.

But, really, the blame does not belong on the shoulders of a volunteer who stepped in when needed.

No, the blame goes to the author of this play.

Yeah, I know, I’m blaming the Tony Award-winning playwright, Joe Masteroff (who wrote the book that Cabaret is based on). But the drama in this play never gets close to tragedy because the audience does not feel close to the characters.

Certainly, the rise of Nazism in Berlin in 1939 was frightening to those who did not ignore its potential to indiscriminately destroy lives, but why should we care about these particular lives portrayed in Cabaret?

The relationship that we did care about, in the aforementioned subplot, never had its climax … of which the audience was aware.

This is a concern of those who like their stories to be complete packages (obviously including myself). Cabaret, instead, shows a world in conflict and allows the audience to make connections.

Take, for instance, the performance of Shauna Jones. She plays Sally Bowles in one tone throughout the play. She is an engaging presence and we appreciate her subtle mannerisms to soften her outrageous character. But it is up to the audience to project how they would feel onto the Bowles character.

Is this brilliance on the part of Mr. Masteroff? or the result of a play written by a committee? It’s your money, you decide.

As I said earlier, however, there are two Cabarets. Cabaret, the variety show, is well worth the price of a ticket and a ticket for the next night, as well.

Bronwyn Jones’ every move and facial expression is attention-grabbing. The gender-bending decision to cast her as the EmCee was the disturbing twist needed to add seediness to the basement-dwelling world of the cabaret.

How would she do with the song, Two Ladies? Very well, indeed.

The Kit Kat Girls, too, are a force. Jude Wong and the alternating team of Rebecca Reynolds and Michelle Fisher contribute polish while Claire Ness brings the attitude.

And, once again, Dave Haddock has pulled together a dream band of Daniel Janke, Graeme Peters, Anne Turner, Lonnie Powell, Don Bishop, Scott Wilson and Colleen McCarthy.

Onstage and in costume to fill out the set of the Kit Kat Klub, their performance is only marred by the choice not to go unplugged.

The lighting by Anton Solomon was perfect; the costumes by Kaori Torigai were impressive and the set by Linda Leon had most of the audience touching the brickwork to see if it was real.

Unfortunately, there is the issue of an invisible door on the set. I was embarrassed for the actors when they pretended to knock on it and mystified when they walked right through it.

The highlight of the show, however, belongs to Shauna Jones belting out the song, Cabaret. It was a difficult time for her character and Jones managed to project the sadness while staring the audience right in the face and slamming them into their seats with the force of her voice.

It was a memorable end to the theatre season in Whitehorse.

Cabaret shows at the Guild Hall at 8 p.m., Wednesdays to Saturdays, until April 18. Tickets are available at Well-Read Books.

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