This is not Liza's "Cabaret". This ain't even the edgier Alan Cumming version. The new Schoolyard production of Cabaret currently playing at Re-bar is a different animal entirely. With its more contemporary rock orchestrations and in your face style this production of the Kander and Ebb classic sometimes feels a bit forced into a new mold forsaking the spirit of the original but also manages some amazing moments of clarity of story and brilliant staging.
1930's Berlin complete with Nazis, spies, Jews, fruit, hookers, homosexuals, a Cabaret and a writer taking it all in. Of course this is a musical from the 1960's. (Note: That was sarcasm) But then that's what Kander and Ebb did best; taking horrific storylines and shining a spotlight on the horror to make it less icky and setting it to music. So why not a musical about a desperate cabaret singer in Nazi Germany falling for an American writer? They gambled and it worked as it spawned a hit on Broadway, an Academy Award winning movie and countless productions since.
And while I don't begrudge anyone their vision or reimagining of a show, at times I felt it to stumble and lack a bit of commitment. First off in the small performance area at Re-bar, the band sometimes tended to drown out the singers. I kept thinking that it was a good thing I know the lyrics so well or I might have missed them completely. And a few times with the updated rock orchestrations which leaned more towards "Hedwig" meets "Cabaret" the songs became a bit too angry losing the devilish intonations of naughty fun that made this dark story work as a musical. But even those elements that didn't work in some areas worked perfectly in others. Sally's hopeful "Maybe This Time" and her lamenting "Cabaret" as well as the brooding "I Don't Care Much" from the Emcee became much more meaningful and shone more of a stark reality on the moments than I've seen in other productions.
The cast shows a tremendous love for what they are doing and fun but at times seemed a bit tentative. But that could just be a need to solidify the show a bit more. Gary Zinter (who was vocally under the weather the night I saw him) as the Emcee has the playfulness but could use more investment in the situations early on so as to contrast his silent disapproval later in the show. Josh Hartvigson as the not so naïve Cliff shows him to be a lot more duplicitous and aware of what's happening to him than I've seen. Yes, he's surrounded by freaks but is he really one of them or does he want to be? Daniel Wood skulks around nicely as the Nazi spy Ernst and deftly shows his hand only when needed. Rebecca M. Davis and Todd Hull, while being a bit too young to play Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, still manage an air of charm and sweetness beyond adversity to the roles. And Kayla Walker as the prostitute Fraulein Kost turns in a wonderful performance of a woman doing whatever she needs to survive and has some of the best vocals of the evening as she launches the rousing yet haunting "Tomorrow Belongs to Me". But the star of the show (as well she should be) is Monica Wulzen as the damaged Sally Bowles. She infuses the part with a desperate giddiness so as to never show the cracks. And she nailed a kind of broken sadness into the on the surface lighthearted eponymous 11 o'clock number, "Cabaret".
Kudos to choreographer Emma Hassett for some outstanding numbers especially the amazing "Mein Herr" as well as to Costumer Julia Evanovich for her sexy and sultry look of the show (gotta love those spandex shorts and suspenders). Director Terri Weagant has done a sublime job staging a difficult show in multiple small locations making a truly immersive production. And her reimagining of this gem works quite well for the most part. With a little more time the show could really be something special. If I could offer just two suggestions, turn down the band and commit.
"Cabaret" from The Schoolyard performs at Re-bar through May 12th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.theschoolyard.net/cabaret.
Photo credit: David Wulzen