Entertainment » Theatre

Cabaret

by Andrew Clark
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Oct 2, 2017
Cabaret

The Arden Theatre did something I thought to be somewhat odd for their 30th Anniversary Season. Two of the shows they picked, "Fun Home" and its opener "Cabaret" both happened to have just come through Philadelphia on their national tours earlier this year.

I have to assume that these shows were already in motion before the tour stops occurred, but I was apprehensive that having just seen a large-scale performance at the Academy of Music would dull the impact of this production. However, this production completely disproved any of my fears of the material losing its edge, and in fact delivered a stunning reproduction of the modern revival of this beloved show.

I'll start with a hefty helping of praise of the set design headed up by David Gordon. While the Broadway show had the luxury of a house transformed into the Kit Kat Club, the national tour was unable to do the same for the various stops along the way, withholding the intimate nature of the show. Its central metaphor of being spectators while atrocities occurred lost some of its value in a theatre set up to do exactly that.

The Arden is an intimate theater even in its biggest configuration, but Gordon jutted the stage out into the audience, included eight round tables surrounding it for a lucky group of attendees, and let the remaining seats peer over the stage so that every seat felt like front row. The Emcee was able to join, interact, and entice the audience from a short distance, befitting the vibe that this show deserves.

Still, it is the cast that must fill that space and bring it to life. One cannot underscore how difficult it is to create the tawdry atmosphere of a well-known, well-tread musical right inside an Old City theatre, and I truthfully wasn't sold at first "Wilkommen." But John Jarboe's commitment and own personal panache as the Emcee, Charissa Hogeland's surprisingly, cynically dead-eyed Sally Bowles, and Daniel Fredrick's convincingly wide-eyed foil to both soon set the scene for the clever show's plot.

Those who are more familiar with the movie than the show may be surprised at how much heart its characters have. Gone is Liza's scenery chewing, replaced with a cast of people grasping at the last days of the Party while their home is transformed with a new political force. Personal satisfaction and struggle are at the forefront, with the Nazi's rise very lightly hinted at in the first act. It isn't until the end of Act 1 that the show deploys the bone-chilling "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" that it becomes clear how the Nazi's will infect the characters introduced.

Jarboe delivers a savvy mix of the delightful, androgynous pleasure being lost in the Nazi takeover and the dead-eyed indifference that allows it to happen. Sally and Cliff's foray into domestic bliss is a noticeably deluded venture, underscoring their unwillingness to believe that the Nazis will disrupt their Berlin, and played with believable pluck by both Fredrick and Hogeland.

But the heart of this show is Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, played to perfection by Mary Elizabeth Scallen and Kenny Morris, respectively. In the middle of a show mostly packed with decadent dance numbers and pleading emotional asides, Schneider and Schultz's songs like "So What?" and "Married" find the characters with the most to lose and the first of whom the Nazi threat becomes real.

Entertaining and prescient as ever, the Arden's "Cabaret" delivers on its promise of a noir, theatrical night. In our role as the audience of Kit Kat Klub, we are made to feel inactive in our intervention of fascism. The jarring, almost silent finale leaves the audience with space to meditate on the parallels between the "Cabaret" past and our own present.

What is the cost of prizing frivolity over morality? In what way does neutrality endorse evildoing? As the ambiguity to these questions disappears, the facade of the show does as well, and the sharp social commentary that makes "Cabaret" exceptional is all that's left.

"Cabaret" runs through October 22 at The Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St. in Philadelphia. For tickets or information, call 215-922-1122 or visit www.ardentheate.org

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