Cabaret Soars at Barrington Stage Company

Awesome Debut for Artistic Director Alan Paul

By: - Jun 20, 2023

Book by Joe Masteroff
Based on the play by John Van Druten and Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Scenic Design by Wilson Chin
Costume Design by Rodrigo Muñoz
Lighting Design by Philip Rosenberg
Sound Design by Ken Travis
Wig Design by Mary Martin
Production Stage Manager Jason Brouillard
Musical Direction by Angela Steiner
Choreography by Katie Spelman
Directed by Alan Paul
June 14- July 8

Cast: Emcee, Nik Alexander; Sally Bowles, Krysta Rodriguez; Clif Bradshaw, Dan Amboyer; Ernst Ludwig, Tom Story; Fraulein Schneider, Candy Buckley; Fraulein Kost, Alysha Umphress; Herr Schultz, Richard Klein; Max, Max Antonio Gonzalez, Kit Kat chorus.

The chilling and thrilling production of  Kander and Ebb’s monumental musical, Cabaret, could not be more timely and ominously relevant.

Set in the final stages of the Weimar Republic, roiled in economic crisis, political and social unrest, there is the decadent danse macabre of the gender bending, outrageous shenanigans of the Kit Kat Club. It serves heady champagne and orgiastic entertainment on the deck of the sinking Titanic that was Germany sliding into the oblivion of fascism, the Holocaust, and World War II.

But leave that all outside and submit to the siren call of the slithering erotic Emcee, (an utter tsunami played by the flawless Nik Alexander) who entices us into the hellfire of submission with the mesmeric “Willkommen.” His performance gives a brilliant new spin on an iconic role.

It’s a new dawn for Barrington Stage Company and, after many seasons under founding Artistic Director, Julianne Boyd, with a new hand on the tiller in Alan Paul. With his first production, an absolute smash, we are put on notice to anticipate off the hook, outrageous, gender bending theatre in downtown Pittsfield. If you are a prude stay away from lots of simulated, cheeky sex. There are spiffy flashes of hot buns.

But if you are in the mood to leave your troubles behind, then my friends, come to the Cabaret.

Like on the cusp of the rise of Nazi Germany, in tormented America today there are hard right, neo-fascist attacks on gender, reproductive rights, book banning, voter repression, diversity, equity and inclusion, through stacked conservative courts.

Then and now the Kit Kat Club is a potent signifier of the decline and fall of Western Civilization.

The action begins in the lobby as purring Kit Kat kittens prowl about rubbing up against shocked and delighted patrons. Suitably attired, some of the patrons were readily confused with the actors. One feline Kat jumped up on the bar to belt out a tune.

As we took our seats the Kit Katters were slinking about smoking cigarettes and chatting with the audience. Some of which were seated flanking the stage to heighten the ambiance of a seedy night club.

Everything about this production, from set and costumes, to zingy choreography, clicks on all cylinders. There is a lot of kick from the nine-piece band led by Angela Steiner. They have a suitably period jazz age sound with a German accent. The Nazis later forbade musicians to swing to the music.

For starters our heads snap back with flat out production numbers; “Willkomen,” “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Mein Heir.” Whoosh, it’s like being in a wind tunnel. That’s brilliantly augmented by the razz-matazz choreography of Katie Spelman who is making her Barrington debut.

Inserted into those three full on numbers there is the solo of  inn keeper, Fraulein Schneider. As a signifier of the average German swept up in the maelstrom of change she sings “So What.” It speaks to eking out survival through everything thrown at her from a defeated Germany, revolution, communists and fascists, and raging inflation.

She negotiates with the somewhat square American, Cliff Bradford (Dan Amboyer), an aspiring novelist, who can only pay half of what she demands. But he soon makes a bit of money making runs to Paris returning with contraband for Ernst Ludwig (Tom Story). It pays enough to hang out at the Kit Kat Club doing research.

Soon the uninvited Sally, fired from her gig at the cabaret, is a desperate roommate. Just a few night turns into a quasi relationship. Pregnancy changes everything but Clif appears ready to do what it takes. Having been down that road Sally has another idea.

By the second act the escapism at the club has morphed into the rising tide of Black Death and fascism. Fraulein Schneider is contemplating marriage to a fruit seller and tenant, Herr Schultz (Richard Kline). Soon that’s impossible because he is a Jew.

Her world turned upside down Candy Buckley, as Fraulein Schneider, belts out the anguished filled rhetorical question “What Would You Do.” It’s a spell binding and heart wrenching moment in an evening which has many.

By the end of the musical swastikas are visible everywhere including on the arms of entertainers and musicians. Even the Emcee appears in an outré version of a Nazi uniform.

We see Storm Troopers (Sturmabteilung, SA or Brownshirts) standing as grim sentinels at the Kit Kat Club. These thugs and street fighters comprised a private army of some 160,000. They were led by the homosexual Ernst Röhm. As a threat to Hitler he and the leaders of the SA were eliminated at dawn after an orgy in The Night of the Long Knives. Significantly, homosexuals like these paramilitary hoodlums were later consigned to the death camps.

During the finale mirrors reflect back on the audience. It reminds us that while we witness the threat of fascism today, most lack the spine to stand up to it. Like Herr Schultz, who remained in Berlin and thought of himself as a good German, most Americans assume that it will just go away.

Paul’s production of Cabaret is thought proving and scintillating entertainment.