Come to ‘Cabaret’ with Way Off Broadway
“There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies ... and there was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany ... and it was the end of the world.” 1931 Germany. In so many ways, it was the end of the world. This setting is the world of “Cabaret,” the musical by Kander and Ebb. “Cabaret” might be best known for the 1972 movie adaptation with Liza Minnelli, but the 1998 revival ran for 2,377 performances, making it the third longest-running musical revival in Broadway history. That production was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, winning four. That version, in its Iowa production premiere, is the version being presented by Way Off Broadway at the Fairfield Arts & Conventin Center’s Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.
With the first jaunty raise of his eyebrow, Jonathan Christopher commands the stage as the Master of Ceremonies, not just in the Kit Kat Klub, but in all the scenes of the show as a “constant metaphor” for the growing tension in Germany. As the show opens to reveal the Kit Kat Klub in all its seedy glory, the M.C. beckons the audience to “leave your troubles outside.” With a glorious voice and dance moves to match, Christopher’s M.C. leads the Kit Kat Girls in their catchy, energetic numbers (Those girls can kick!), and on the surface, it seems that the Kit Kat Klub is insulated against the storm brewing beyond its walls.
“Mein Herr” is a standout in the glitzy and delightfully naughty numbers with the Kit Kat Girls. But underneath, every song is an abstract illustration of the escalating tension between the main characters and in Germany before the Holocaust.
Beyond the walls of the Kit Kat Klub, two love stories bloom. Sally Bowles, English starlet of the Kit Kat Klub, falls for American novelist Clifford Bradshaw. Lyric Benson, daughter of Robby Benson and Karla DeVito, is effervescent as Sally, both gritty and fragile. When she sings “Maybe This Time,” the simultaneous hope and sadness she conveys are riveting. Late in the show, Benson also makes the song “Cabaret” convincingly her own, which is never easy to do with a musical theatre standard. As Cliff, Robert Kemp’s delicious voice and intense acting make the perfect match for Benson’s Sally, especially as conflicts grow to a climax in the second act.
The second love story revolves around Fraulein Schneider, the German owner of a boarding house, and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. Fraulein Schneider is played with strength and timing by Fairfield favorite, Margaret Clair, and Brendan Thomas’s kind, dear Herr Schultz will break your heart. Through their characters, the audience experiences the true fear that must have permeated those pre-War days in Germany, climaxing in the chilling reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”
The main characters are supported by more than 20 solid cast members who build the story with strong singing and commitment to character. The live band onstage further boosts the energy of the show (“Even the orchestra is beautiful!”), and the set skillfully uses the whole space the Sondheim has to offer. Unique, vibrant, and not to be missed ... you’ll leave “Cabaret” feeling moved and wholly entertained.
Directed and choreographed by Randal K. West with musical direction by Shari Rhoads, “Cabaret” will play at the Sondheim Center for four more performances: 7:30 p.m. today, which is Everybody’s night and all seats are $18; 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Following the Fairfield run, “Cabaret” will play for two performances April 12-13 at the Coralville Performing Arts Center.
Due to adult situations and adult language, anyone under the age of 15 should be accompanied by an adult.