Cabaret on ‘Cabaret’
Ashland’s “Other Theater” Takes on the Nazis With Jazz-Hands
Dancing, sex, and Nazis—and kind of in that order, actually. Ahh Cabaret. Whether it was the scantily-dressed women, the dancing gorilla, or those damn rascally Nazis, the early June audience was so captivated by the performance of Cabaret that a pin drop could be heard during those pregnant theatrical pauses. Seriously, it was excellent. Valerie Rachelle and Michael Jenkinson co-direct the revival of the 1966 Broadway hit originally scored and written by John Cander and Fred Ebb that opened May 28 and will run through August 30 at Oregon Cabaret Theater in Ashland.
With an excellent cast and humorous script, the six people in the world unfamiliar with Cabaret might initially mistake this play for a light-hearted, albeit, sexually charged, musical. However, set in Berlin, Germany at the rise of the Nazi political party, its deeper message is anything but.
The audience is “Varmly Velcommed” into the bawdy Kit Kat club by the sexually liberated Master of Ceremonies (Galloway Stevens) who, although at times can be difficult to understand, remains a powerful energetic centerpoint for what is ultimately a very dark-themed play.
On a train from Paris, frugal but likeable novelist Cliff Bradshaw (played by Paul Michael Garcia) is advised by the semi-charming and suspicious Ernest Ludwid (Matt Brown) to find a bed at a seedy boarding house in Berlin. A proposition for English lessons and an unspoken observation of Ludwid’s clandestine smuggling cements, if not foreshadows, their relationship.
Cue the beautiful female lead Sally Bowles (Jillian Van Niel), a promiscuous late night performer and gin drinker. Van Niel proves to be an excellent singer during her multiple solo sets. Her first song “Don’t Tell Mama,” makes quick insight into what becomes a secret-fueled cast. Some secrets, such as Bradshaw’s brief historical homosexual encounters, do not necessarily drive the play, but rather add depth to his character and leads the audience down a road of unanswerable questions (this touch, incidentally, comes from a revised script from the 1998 Broadway adaptation which Valerie Rachelle decided to work from).
By the end of the play it becomes evident that most of these questions are indeed not meant to be answered. Had it not been for the excellent acting, this may have been a bitter pill for some to swallow. Tamara Marston (Fraulein Schneider) does an incredible job deftly portraying the inner conflict of her character’s dilemma entwined in the zeitgeist of the play—often without words.
Similarly, Matt Brown (Ernst) proves that even Nazis can be congenial at times. His character undoubtedly has his political views, but Brown keeps them skillfully undertoned until his calm demeanor erupts into a sharp and unexpected cry of distaste that transforms an amiable audience into one fully engaged in the anti-Semitic conflict.
That being said, the acting, by all members, was by far the standout aspect of the production. Cabaret takes on very charged themes which are occasionally watered down by the often ridiculous Kit Kat Club setting and tawdry euphemisms the characters employ to lighten the mood of an otherwise morosely-themed play. These talented stage performers know how to sing, prove they can dance, and will likely continue to fill most, if not all of the seats, for the months to come.
Through August 30
Oregon Cabaret Theater, 241 Hargadine St., Ashland