SCHENECTADY - The national touring production of “Cabaret,” that is at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday, is proof the show is one of the all-time great musicals.
To me, one measurement of a show’s greatness is how the material can offer new perspectives with each viewing. When “Cabaret” first appeared on Broadway in 1966 it was a mere 20 years after the end of World War II. At that time the show seemed a tragic look back at the rise of the Nazi Party in the Germany of the 1930s. That rise to power led to the war and the scapegoating of Jews - which resulted in the Holocaust.
Today rather than a look at the past, “Cabaret” seems more a cautionary tale about the future and the danger that comes when any nation embraces the philosophies of an authoritarian political movement. This is a show that states that a decadent and corrupt society is one that can be seduced by a political leader who gains power by means of distraction.
If it isn’t clear by now, this production of “Cabaret” is dark. Very dark. Most productions of the show show the decline of the population’s moral compass as a gradual process. The early songs tend to be upbeat and entertaining and they become darker as the country becomes intolerant about those who ae not pure Germans. That outsider status includes Jews who were born in Germany.
This production starts with decay. The people who inhabit the cabaret known as the Kit Kat Klub are coarse and they rapidly decline because of their pursuit of pleasure.
The production may actually be too dark for some tastes. Indeed, it’s especially difficult to applaud at the close of act one when after the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” everyone gathers to honor the character wearing a swastika. The tomorrow they sing about has arrived.
It’s nothing short of amazing that the production is as entertaining as it is. “Cabaret” is remarkable in its ability to balance entertainment and a disturbing message. Without diminishing the tragedy within the story, the songs entertain, the dances are a delight and the interpretation of characters are impressive.
The portrayal of Jon Peterson as the Emcee is awesome. He is both charming and despicable, crude yet endearing, and leering while being sardonic. At the show’s end he is a pathetic victim, and we actually feel sad for him.
Leigh Ann Larkin takes possession of Sally Bowles through a very honest interpretation of the shallow singer. Larkin shows her as a clueless person who deserves the loneliness she lives with. Thanks to excellent acting by Benjamin Eakeley as her lover Clifford Bradshaw their doomed romance is poignant and almost tragic.
The true tragic figures in “Cabaret” are the older lovers- Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. They personify how good people can have their hopes and dreams shattered by a society dominated by fear and prejudice. Mary Gordon Murray is wonderful as the pragmatic spinster and Scott Robertson is her equal as the Jewish produce merchant.
In this production all minor characters become important. Both Patrick Vaill as Clifford’s friend Ernst and Alison Ewing as the whore Fraulein Kost portray characters on the lower rung of society who realize power when they turn on their neighbors Both performances are nicely nuanced and wonderfully chilling.
Even the girls and boys of the Kit Kat Klub are ideal as they portray weary, disengaged people who represent those who settle for a life of decadence rather than one of purpose. Individually they each step out the group to etch strong supporting characters and even play musical instruments.
“Cabaret” is not a joyous musical but it is a powerful work and a joy for anyone who enjoys dramatic theater. See it before it leaves Proctors on Sunday and learn about the world in which we live.
For tickets and schedule information call 518-346-6204 or go to Proctors.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.