Review: Roundabout Theatre’s Touring Production of ‘Cabaret’

Roundabout Theatre COmpany's Cabaret

Wilkommen to the KIT KAT CLUB, where you can leave your troubles, like reality, politics, and the fact that the world is changing at a faster clip than you may be comfortable with, behind!  Direct from Broadway, and as part of their 50th Anniversary Season, the critically acclaimed and award-winning Roundabout Theatre Company brings CABARET to the San Diego Civic Theatre through August 28th.

As the Emcee, Randy Harrison is a grinning joker that is happy to lure you in to the Kit Kat Club for some fun, dazzling debauchery, and to push the limits to see just how much misdirection people are willing to buy in order to avoid the reality of what’s happening around them.  He is a delightful, devil may care pied piper who plays a merry tune and the audience happily follows.  Many of his songs have a strong spoken element; but Harrison has a strong voice, which he shows off to great effect in the second act with “I Don’t Care Much.”

The Emcee is a tricky character, having been already portrayed by Joel Gray and Alan Cumming in iconic performances, but Harrison makes it as much his own as he can within the parameters of the character.  His character is a leering gargoyle that hangs over every scene, as he is the filter which the shows plot is seen through.  An omniscient, gender bending, and freewheeling character, his messy transition throughout the arc of the show mirrors Berlins’ transition from avant-garde cultural epicenter through the birth and rise of the Nazi regime.  A regime, as he and the characters learn that doesn’t permit anything that doesn’t fall into their strict guidelines of propriety, which includes him and all that the club represents.

The clubs main star is Sally Bowles, the cabaret performer that is as much lost lamb as wolf on the hunt.  Played by Andrea Goss, Sally is flirtatious and innocent in “Don’t Tell Mamma”, full of brassy bluster in “Mein Herr” and ultimately a broken party girl defiantly declaring that the party is not over in “Cabaret.”  Most of her songs are sung within the character of the song, which doesn’t really let her open up vocally.  But when Goss is channeling Sally at her lowest and most desperate in “Cabaret” she gets to use her full voice and delivers a powerhouse performance.

The entire show, in the club or not, is framed by remnants of the club, the musicians, and the doors, it’s a reminder that for all of these characters, there truly is no leaving this world fully behind.

Cliff, portrayed by Benjamin Eakeley, is a struggling American writer in Berlin who gets pulled into the honey trap combination of the club and Sally.  With boyish charm, an open sense of self, and a seemingly clear idea of what is coming, the character just doesn’t seem as fully realized as the others around him, and a little too good to be true.

While most characters are caught up in the moment and can’t see what is coming, it is the story of Fraulen Schneider and Herr Schultz that tugs at the heartstrings and illustrates the hard choices people will soon have to make.  Their romance turns bittersweet as Schneider, played with heartbreaking sadness and practicality by Shannon Cochran, realizes that if she wants to continue to survive, her romance with Schultz, played by Mark Nelson, is fated to end.

Other standouts are Alison Ewing, as Fraulein Kost, and Patrick Vaill as Ernst Ludwig, who embrace the incoming politics as their chance to not just survive but thrive. As they turn towards the nationalistic, xenophobic, and despotic system they get their chance to step into the spotlight as the others start to fall away.

Whether it is broad strokes like political parties and lifestyles, or more individualized as people contemplate their actions and the ramifications of them, it proves that CABARET asks questions that make it relevant no matter how often it is revived.

Like the song says, come to the CABARET of chum, come hear the music play.  Show times and ticket prices available at www.Broadwaysd.com

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