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The New American Shakespeare Tavern1
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Cabaret, by John Kander and Fred Ebb
What good is sitting alone in your room? WAY better than this production!
Monday, May 28, 2007
Attended a preview of Cabaret this weekend, and though I am usually very forgiving of Preview performances, there are things in this production that even two full months of previews could not remedy.

First, I have to say that this is one of the most abysmally designed shows I have ever seen in all my years as a theatregoer.

The set is atrocious, causing many problems in the staging. Eternal entrances and exits up and down two spiral staircases, the room area of the set is so tiny that when there is more than one actor in the area, they are forced into ridiculously awkward positions. In order to enter the room there is a treacherous series of steps and stairs that make the audience feel that the actors need an Alpine guide to navigate them. The curtains that enclose three areas of the stage are cheesy beyond endurance.

Though the intent of the costuming was possibly to have the cheap and seedy look of a nightclub in 1920s Berlin, unfortunately, they only come across as cheap, low-budget and dull. The only exceptions are some of the dresses for Sally, which are appropriately glitzy and 20s chic.

The lighting, which could have added much to the atmosphere of the performance was prefunctory area lighting with no indication of time or place or infulence the mood of any given moment.

Now for the performances. With a couple of exceptions, they were desperate and ineffective.

Jeff McKerley performed the Emcee as if under the impression that he was adorable, irresistable and brilliant...a sentiment that neither the friend who attended with me or I shared. His strongest moment comes in the second act, when he delivered the song I DONT CARE MUCH simply and in an unadorned fashion. He is also credited with the Dance Choreography for the production - a collection of bargain basement Fosse rip offs, drag queen turns, and contemporary Booty Shaking, all repetitive and uninspired.

Though I am sure that Ellen McQueen may be a fine actress in a straight play, her performance as Fraulein Schneider was a series of grimaces, hand wringing and simpering that did not communicate the strength the character has to posess. Her two songs, which should both be strong show-stopping moments would have perhaps been better cut from the show, as she does not posess the vocal skills to communicate them in a manner that even nears adequate. In my opinion, LaLa Cochrane, who demonstrates a total command of the stage every moment she is on, and who delivers a killer reprise of TOMORROW BELONGS TO ME at the end of the first act would have made a much more effective Fraulein Schnieder.

As Herr Schultz, Clark Taylor performs the role vacillating between bombastic, fussy and cutesy, with an accent out of a road company production of Heidi. This character is one of the emotional hearts of the show, and is performed as if the character has suffered some sort head injury, is brain damaged, or developmentally disabled.

And a question there ever a production at the Tavern without Jeff Watkins? Though he is a fine actor, he is entirely ineffective as Ernst.

Matt Nitchie is effective as Cliff, (which in my opinion is among the most thankless roles in the history of musical theatre). He has an innate honesty as an actor that serves the character well, sings beautifully, and is one of the better things about the show.

The bright spot? Agnes Harty as Sally. Though she is not the actress that would immediately spring to mind when casting the role, her Sally is neither a capricious flibbertygibbet or a stock vamp character, as Sally is often portrayed. Visually reminding me of an earthier Louise Brooks from the films of the early 1920's, she delivers an extremely layered and deeply felt performance, making Sally movingly human, and even fragile at the appropriate times. Her conviction in the delivery of her musical numbers is that of a seasoned pro, and even when encumbered with atrocious staging (as in MAYBE THIS TIME when she is directed to straighten her stockings, brush her hair and clamber down the spiral staircases) she shines.

The fault for this production, though must reside with Heidi Cline. A noted director, this production appears as if she staged it over the internet via Instant Messaging. No cohesive tone is set, as there apparently is no unifying production concept. The blocking of the scenes(though this may be the fault of the set design, which I assume she approved) is clumsy, obligatory, and appears to have been done by a junior high school student who is directing for the first time. There is a climactic moment in the second act when a brick is thrown through the window of Herr Schultz's fruit shop. In this production, and actor enters on the upper level and tosses an obviously fake brick to the stage floor. Instead of having dramatic impact, this moment causes one to try to supress titters.

The first act could have also used some judicious cutting, coming in at over an hour and a half. The TELEPHONE SONG and TELEPHONE DANCE could both have been eliminted with no loss to the production.

And as for me? As for me? Opposite to the exhortation in the title song, I am taking up my knitting, the book and the broom.

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