Set in 1930s Germany where anti-Jewish and pro-Nazi sentiment is starting to escalate, Cabaret is a dark story of hiding away from your troubles and avoiding the increasing difficulties of the real world in favour of a world of parties, booze, and carefree ignorance. Our entry point into 1930s Berlin and the Kit Kat Klub, is Clifford Bradshaw, an American author on the road to write his next novel and drawn to Berlin to teach English. Cliff quickly becomes embroiled in a love affair with the star of the club’s cabaret, Sally Bowles, as well as some illegal political posturing, both of which increasingly make his life of escapism harder to drown himself in.
Cabaret is the first production from Carleton Musical Theatre Society, a new student company operating out of Carleton University. As a brand new student theatre company (sort of, they do have roots with Carleton’s other student company, Sock ‘n Buskin), they aren’t equipped with the talent pool, reputation, or resources of say, Orpheus (Ottawa’s resident community musical experts), but the upstart company has managed to make the most of what they did have to do an overall good job tackling an ambitious musical. One that doesn’t suffer from any loss of production value with a great live orchestra, strong design and many of their costumes, particularly the risque ones, donated by Wicked Wanda’s.
As to the weaker moments of the production, some of the choreography/dancing was unpolished and a bit messy. When it came to the number, Two Ladies, I honestly wasn’t even sure what I was watching. More pressing, though, was a lack of life when it came to the romance between Fraulein Shneider and Herr Shutlz, the landlady and the Jew, as well as the sub plot with the prostitute tenant, Fraulein Kost. Intellectually, the words were there on stage, but emotionally, there was little heart behind it and little connection, which resulted in that part of the plot falling flat and leaving you occasionally feeling the one and a half hour length of the first act.
Happily, this was outweighed in the overall scheme of things by the production’s strengths (the source material notwithstanding).
While the Emcee’s accent was a barrier for the first few minutes, I was never more pleased to have a first impression proven wrong. Sam Kellerman did a tremendous job with a challenging role and a lot of different faces. Kyle Villeneuve was a collected, emotional, Cliff Bradshaw with a strong presence and ability to connect with the material and his audience. And Sally Bowles. Played by Kelsey Lee, her melodramatically hammy British accent annoyed me on occasion in the first act, but the girl can dance and the girl can sing. Goodness, can she sing. Her rendition of Cabaret was Fantastic (capitalized for emphasis) and I would see the show again simply for it.
These three leads, coupled with some good direction from Madison Jolliffe help bring the show an emotionally charged ending that manages to capture the tensions and spirit of the era and the tragedy of the troubles the characters can no longer escape.
At the end of the night, CMTS’s production of Cabaret is a community theatre, student show, but for those limitations it is a strong start for the company.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. What was your favourite routine in the show? Did the show lose too many themes in its presentation to be effective? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below.
Cabaret runs now through Saturday February 6th at the Kailash Mital theatre on Carleton University’s campus. More info: http://carletonmts.wix.com/cmts