Updated musical intoxicates audience, literally
âHello, ladies! Iâm Bobby,â says an eyeliner-smudged dancer as he straddles my roommate and runs a finger from my knee into my boot.
Welcome to Berlin.
âAre you two dirty girls?â he asks with a scrunch-nosed smile. âMm I can tell zat you are.â
Welcome to Berlin.
âDo you vant anysing to drink?â He blows a raspberry and makes thumbs down to our declination. âParty poopers. Iâll be back later.â He sashays away, his black vest flapping over bare abs.
When you first slip through the front door, up the dark stairs and across the postage-stamp lobby of the MET Theatre, you expect something smarter than a strip club, sassier than High School Musical and more interactive than an IMAX movie.
Welcome to âCabaret,â where there are no troubles â or so they say.
It helps to be 21.
As you watch the Kit Kat boys in tux pants, bow ties and vests, and girls in bloomers and the kind of brassiere your grandmother wears perch their toe on a pink husbandâs knee or wrap their thigh around the waist of a darting-eyed girlfriend they pulled onstage, youâre going to want a gin and tonic.
Luckily, the actors double as servers, there to tuck your drink order and your cash into a garter belt in exchange for liquoring you up.
By the time the first oompah notes of the orchestra â led by musical director and conductor Greg Hakke â add to the din, thereâs already a buzz in the 99-seat playhouse.
The emcee (Eduardo Enrikez) teeters out from under the mirrored central arch of the fiery, minimalist set by Victoria Bellocq, inspired by painter Paul Klee. He sports a web of suspenders with a juicy bowtie caught over his chest hair, dollish makeup, clown-like military boots and a suit jacket. He croons Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome! to the semi-fondled crowd, and we believe him. His German accent is cut with a dose of affectation, but his words permeate the cozy (if partially vacant) audience without the aid of a wireless mike.
Our host formally introduces us to Lulu, Texas, Frenchie, Rosie, Fritzie, Helga, Swing, Bobby, Victor, Hans and Herman; but at this point, weâre already pretty intimate.
Nonetheless, youâre going to want a rum and coke when the emcee announces that âEach and every oneâ of the Kit Kat girls is a virgin, then asks, âDonât believe me? Try Helga,â slips his hand between her legs, licks his fingers and, evidently, âtriesâ her.
This shocking (but uproariously appreciated) humor is the star of director Judy Nortonâs show, upstaging the heart-rending plotline and robbing tender moments of their authenticity.
Set in 1931 Germany and obliquely detailing the rise of the Nazi party through the experiences of American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (played very straightforwardly by Michael Bernardi), âCabaretâ has the potential to be a dynamo of human compassion. It can assail audience membersâ defenses with the hard truths about war and power, and prod the dark humor out of one of the bleakest chapters in modern human history: the Holocaust.
On a more temporal level, Kalinda Grayâs rendition of Sally Bowles, the 19-year-old English leading lady of the Berlin nightclub around which the play revolves, delivers a crushing performance with the namesake ballad âCabaret.â The ebullience of Act I is utterly sapped from her body as she fights pointless tears in her final number.
Even though at the outset her character is âliving in delicious sin,â as Sally puts it, a transformation from naĂŻvetĂ© to world-weariness is solidified for the first time as she huskily belts, Start by admitting from cradle to tomb/ Isnât that long a stay./ Life is a Cabaret, old chum [and] I love a Cabaret!
But youâre going to want a whiskey on the rocks when the emceeâs accent dissipates throughout the show until its bold reemergence in the final scenes.
Youâre going to want one when opening-night jitters make the Fosse-esque choreography (by Tania Possick, who also plays Lulu) a little sloppy and too much like a real cabaret.
Youâre going to want one when ready-made jokes fall flat â like Fraulein Schniderâs (Annalisa Ericksonâs) insistence to Herr Schultz (huge-voiced Jayson Kraid), âYou must not bring me any more pineapples, you hear? It is not proper. It is a gift that a young man would bring to his lady love; makes me blush!â
Or when the fairly inebriated audience giggles and cheers when the emcee asks at the close of the show, âWhere are your troubles now â forgotten?â after a starkly more dramatic and deliberately troubling Act II.
Voices like those of Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount) and little Anna Ludwig (the tenacious and young Danielle Soibelman) chisel away at the sticker shock of a ticket, and the orgastic energy that the cast brings to the stage is unparalleled.
One can only hope that by the time âCabaretâ closes, it wonât need its alcoholic crutch to stun spectators.