I was shot down by a girl not long before I saw the UC Follies’ production of Cabaret. Now, before we go any further, I’m not looking for sympathy here—heck, I’m practically overflowing with charm, wit, good looks, and modesty. The point of the story is that I was not predisposed to enjoy Cabaret.My preferred activities that night probably would have been laying in bed stuffing my face with Cheetos, and listening to Alanis. Furthermore, Cabaret adds insult to injury with its sexed-up nature, packed to the gills with scantily clad lovelies and dance sequences (particularly “Two Ladies”) that contain all the thrusting and groping that I would not be indulging in that evening.Ah, but as we all know, there’s nothing to mend a broken heart like a night of musical theatre, and this production of Cabaret was a very good one.
The plot should be familiar to anyone who has spent too much time in the Catskills. The play is set in Berlin during the early 1930s, when the city, as noted in the program by director Stephen Low, was “an artistic and cultural centre ahead of its time,” plagued by the growing Nazi movement. The protagonist is Cliff, an outof- work American writer who arrives in Germany to develop a new novel. Bored, Cliff ventures to the decadent Kit Kat Klub, encountering British singer/dancer Sally Bowles. The pair hit it off, and soon are living in sin under the prudent eye of the boardinghouse owner, Fraulein Schneider.Meanwhile, Fraulein Schneider finds herself being courted by Herr Schultz, a kindly Jewish man, and the two plan to marry. Unfortunately, their love, and the fate of the world at large, is challenged by the growing power of the Nazi party.The most striking quality of this particular production of Cabaret was its strong sense of atmosphere. A lot of the credit goes to the lighting (designed by Simon Miles), as scenes at Cliff’s boarding house are given a smoky, amber-hued appearance that looks almost cinematic. Interior club scenes were more vibrantly coloured, with an emphasis on a vivid, Chicago-esque red. The most effective moment came when crimson was employed during the “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a powerful conclusion to the first act.I found the acting sufficient. Thomas Davis is fine as Cliff, though he’s cursed by playing the least interesting character in the show. Claire Rice, who has stage presence and the cast’s strongest singing voice, was very fine as Sally Bowles. As Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, Meredith Shaw and Neil Silcox brought a strong element of pathos. Both Geoff Stevens (as the emcee) and his package do a credible job.The dance choreography was excellent throughout, particularly during the “Don’t Tell Mama” sequence. But at Thomas’s boarding house an awkward set construction caused confusion, and ill-placed doors and characters’ movements sometimes disrupted the action as they exited the stage. The final scene lacked the requisite emotional wallop, perhaps because it featured the emcee in distress, a character with whom the audience cannot claim to have much emotional investment.Minor quibbles aside, Cabaret was a consistently entertaining show. The production is polished and convincing, the dramatic scenes have weight, and the comic and musical moments are done very nicely. Just know that if you were planning to spend any of the next few nights alone sobbing into your pillow, desperately clutching onto the sheet music for Phantom of the Opera, there is an another entertainment option.Cabaret runs Feb 13 to Feb 16 at Hart House Theatre. For info and tickets visit www.uofttix.ca