Theatre Review: A Well-Rounded Show


Note: This review was posted on the KC Stage review system.

Cabaret, book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb; directed by Gary Griffin. Produced by Kansas City Repertory Theatre. First produced 1966. (Seen March 25, 2011.)

Cabaret is an event from the beginning at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. From the ushers with cabaret style hats on to the velvet red curtain and small candle-lit tables on the front row to the costumes (the oh-so-excellent costumes, especially for the Kit Kat girls — I just wish the Kit Kat boys’ costumes were just as sexy) and the blocking in-the-round, the show helps you believe that you’re not in 2011 in a theatre but in the 1930s in a cabaret club.

With a drum roll, the spotlight opens on the excellent Brian Sills as the Master of Ceremonies, who steals the show every single time he steps on stage, let alone sings. “Wilkommen” gets a double steal as the use of the rotating stage and the gay subtext (as we not only get men dancing together but women as well) is used to full effect. Sills really shines, however, during “The Money Song” — making the song have the true double-meaning and disturbing concept its supposed to.

Brian Sills (Master of Ceremonies). Photo courtesy Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Brian Sills (Master of Ceremonies). Photo courtesy Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

This is the perfect show for staging in the round, and sometimes it’s awesome (especially with the use of the rotating stage). However, sometimes it’s gimmicky. The blocking and choreography felt like it played to the house a lot, so I was left wondering if the people on the risers on the stage really got the full effect of the show. Also, the “Telephone Song” ended up being too busy and distracting, the one time the blocking for in the round didn’t really work for me as I didn’t know quite where to look.

Claybourne Elder, as Clifford, started out small and quiet — as the character needs to be — and really shines in Act II. He has tremendous stage presence, and commands the scenes he’s in. He exudes a quiet shyness that makes you want to watch him.

Which leads me to Kara Lindsay as Sally Bowles. As the whole reason for the plot, the character of Sally Bowles needs to grab the audience’s attention right off the bat with “Don’t Tell Mama” and keep it for the rest of the show. Lindsay just didn’t have it — “Don’t Tell Mama” was the weakest of the Act I songs, feeling like it’s ‘just another song’ as opposed to an introduction. Her English accent wandered from time to time, and it wasn’t really until the last song, “Cabaret”, that she sang with energy and passion. I’d love to blame it on having to compare her to Liza Minelli and the movie version — but it’s been ages since I’ve seen the movie, and Sills was able to take the roll of the Emcee and make it his own, even though one of the few things I did remember from the movie was how much Joel Grey creeped me out. It wasn’t that she was bad — it’s that she should’ve been so much better. She just didn’t command the audience’s attention, and she’s the one you need to be attracted to regardless of your sexual preferences.

“Life is depressing,” the Emcee states — and this show definitely shows that (I felt guilty applauding at the end of Act I, as that’s when the Nazi menace shows up in the plot). Act II has some definite parallels to the world of today that makes this a great choice to produce. I had been looking forward to this since the Rep announced it in their season, and I was not disappointed. It was a decent production, with just a couple of flaws. Cabaret is a roller-coaster of a show – when it’s good, it’s really good; but when it’s not so good, it’s very noticeable as a result.

Cabaret is playing at the KC Rep until April 10, 2011.