By Owen T. Niland
Cabaret, in Golden?!?! For some reason this struck me as funny. To imagine the grand dame of transgressive musical theater performed in a town with such a squeaky-clean reputation as Golden, Colorado could’ve been a head-scratcher, but Miners Alley Playhouse pulls it off, along with what little they were wearing to begin with.
The story is familiar – the gaudy spectacle of the Kit Kat Club and its Emcee, here played with a devilish grin and abs for days by Jim Walker (as my guest that night said, “His abs have abs…”); the doomed love affair between the club’s headliner Sally Bowles (Adriane Wilson) and her American ex-pat lover Clifford Bradshaw (Luke Sorge); the sentimental but impossible courtship between Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz (Tim Fishbaugh) and landlady Fraulein Schneider (Kristen Samu); all played out under the grandeur, decay and decadence of post-WWI Berlin and the rising specter of Nazism.
Director Leo Matheo has staged a tight production. The sparsely designed stage and close quarters of the playhouse draws us into the tawdry world of Cabaret, even before the house lights go down the audience is greeted, flirted with, grinded on, flashed (a little ankle, a little shoulder, no more…) and titillated by the Kit Kat Club’s girls and boys (Steph Holmbo, Kenzie Kilroy, Kayla Mally, Abbey Kochovear, Parker Fowler, and Gab Morales) as they stretch out to warm up their bodies, and the crowd. By the time we hear the familiar drum roll and cymbal crash of “Wilkommen”, one already felt the show had begun.
The tight, sensual choreography by Angie Simmons is evocative of the casual, improvisational dance you may have found in a cabaret such as the Kit Kat Club. The choreography reminded me that making something look simple and improvisational is very difficult in practice. Similarly, Mitch Samu’s musical direction affords the actors latitude in their performance of the vocals – giving up a little polish in exchange for deeper insight into the character. This choice gives the actors an opportunity for a unique take on these familiar songs, especially Wilson’s unexpected interpretation of the well-known title number “Cabaret” which took me by surprise.
Although the flashier relationship is between Sally and Cliff, the emotional heart of the play is the quieter romance between Frau Schneider and Herr Schultz. Samu and Fishbaugh inhabit their roles so naturally and their connection between each other and the audience is so honest and unforced, that the eventual small tragedy accompanying their story bears nearly as much weight as the finale’s grand tragedy.
Like any production, there were a few issues that pulled me out of the experience – the all-around cleanliness of the Kit Kat Club and the lodging house fell short of really creating the decadent, bombed out, decaying look of period; some accents were a little off the mark, coming close to German by way of New Jersey; and Sally’s obvious wig pulled attention. I honestly kept waiting for her to take it off after her scenes in the club.
If there is one word I would use to describe the production, it is unsettling. Director Matheo expertly builds his first act to what feels like a joyous occasion, an engagement party, but then we see Herr Ludwig’s (Rory Pierce) red armband and swastika shatter the characters’ and the audience’s illusion of safety, further underscored by Fraulein Kost’s (Alaina Beth Reel) wild-eyed and terrifying performance of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me”.
The second act lays bare the fear and dread of a future coming quicker than any character in the show could anticipate. As Cliff writes in his final scene, “It was the end of the world, and I was dancing with Sally Bowles … and we were both fast asleep.”
Leaving the theater under lighting stands intentionally, it appears, designed to look like towers at Auschwitz, with an image of the concentration camp clad Emcee, pink triangle and yellow star pinned to his chest fresh in our minds, the audience is left to wonder how far we have come in the 50 years since Cabaret’s debut, or the 72 years since a war was waged to tear down those towers.
Cabaret plays Thursday to Sunday through June 25th at Miners Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, CO.
Box Office: (303) 935-3044