Life is a cabaret, old chum.
Hart House Theatre was full of life this past Friday for the opening of its rendition of Cabaret. Though the food, drink, and individual tables were lacking, the entertainment was in full force.
Based on two novellas written by Christopher Isherwood in the 1940s, the musical has an admirable history of productions and spawned the 1972 movie Cabaret starring Michael York and Liza Minelli. Though there are a number of differences between the film and most stage performances, the plot itself remains intact in director Adam Brazier’s version, and conveys that general plot with a few subtle differences.
American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Keenan Viau) arrives in Berlin during the Weimar period hoping to finish a novel while earning income as an English teacher. He finds room and board with an independent and tenacious German woman, Fraulein Schneider (Renée Stein). His first student, Ernst Ludwig (Glen Mills), introduces him to the Kit Kat Club, a melting pot that blurs sexual and perhaps even moral distinctions, allowing one to express and enjoy him or herself without fear of reproach.
While there, Bradshaw has his first encounter with a dynamic and gregarious English performer named Sally Bowles (Courtney Lamanna). The two quickly fall in love, despite Bradshaw’s possible covert homosexuality, and their relationship flourishes in a Berlin void of restriction. Emblematic of this freedom is the figure of the Emcee (Michael-David Blostein), who hosts the nightly shows and directs the many Kit Kat dancers. Everything is free and beautiful until it begins to disintegrate in tandem with the rise of the Nazis.
The most captivating part of the show is easily Blostein’s performance. A thin and ghastly fellow, we meet a not so flamboyant though no less striking Emcee. His deep voice and gothic appearance enhance the indifference later confirmed in act two during the musical number “I Don’t Care Much”. However, his brilliance does not detract from the compelling performances of others, such as Lamanna and Viau, who use their respective vocal talents to full effect. Delivering a free and fun-loving Bowles and a rigid and formal Bradshaw, both are spot on as they explore the qualities of a doomed relationship. That tension is once again raised in the relationship of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz (Don Berns). With the spectre of Nazism on the rise, a romance between a German woman and a Jewish man is dangerous.
Furthermore, neither of the Kit Kat dancers miss a beat; their constant presence draws the audience’s attention to that thin line between reality and fiction. In the same way, the androgynous appearance of many and the ease of movement of all blurs that mysterious divide between male and female, showing each as what they fundamentally are: human.
All in all, the performances will blow you away and you’d be hard-pressed to find the same vocal talents for such a low price. Cabaret is a musical that encapsulates much of the human experience: love, loss, hatred, and freedom (be it sexual, political, or otherwise). We encounter controversial topics, but they’re treated with the care and respect that should only provoke sincere thought. If you are looking for a good night, some laughs, and stunning talent, Hart House Theatre is ready to oblige…so come to the cabaret!
Cabaret runs until January 28 at Hart House. Visit harthouse.ca/hart-house-theatre/cabaret.