If You Ask Me

Goodspeed Reopens with Revival of “Cabaret”

By Tom Holehan
Connecticut Critics Circle

The Goodspeed Opera House has finally reopened with a good (not great) revival of Kander and Ebb’s landmark musical, “Cabaret”. Any production of this powerful classic lives in the significant shadow of Bob Fosse’s Oscar-winning film and recent Broadway revivals where the brilliant Alan Cumming put his distinctive stamp on the key role of the Emcee.

With a book by Joe Masteroff based on the play by John Van Drutten and the stories of Christopher Isherwood, “Cabaret” is set in 1929 Berlin at the notorious Kit Kat Klub where the Emcee (a miscast Jelani Remy) runs the show featuring lead performer Sally Bowles (Aline Mayagoitia). The musical is seen through the eyes of innocent American writer Clifford Bradshaw (a solid Bruce Landry) who, though bisexual, embarks on a doomed affair with Sally as he attempts to write his novel. He has rented a room from Fraulein Schneider (Jennifer Smith, wonderful) who is being romanced by Jewish grocer Herr Schultz (Kevin Ligon).

This is unusual material for Goodspeed, which has a history of primarily producing frothy musicals. And as if to resist its darker elements, this rendering of “Cabaret” seems sunnier and lighter than usual under James Vásquez’s puzzling direction. The whole show lacks the seedy glamour of this world; the costumes are far too clean, the dancers too wholesome. It all is too shiny and new even when the second act offers some changes to a darker hue.

The odd directorial choices also include Michael Schweikardt’s set, which never really suggests a Berlin nightclub. I also think Emcee using a marionette to perform the stunning “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is a bit on the nose and replacing the dancing gorilla in “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes” with a Raggedy Ann impersonator blunts that song’s potent payoff. Were they afraid of offending audiences? Is that not the point of the song?

Remy is offbeat casting for the role of the Emcee and though he has powerhouse vocals and seemed an audience favorite on opening night, his jokey performance and eager-to-please demeanor never seemed rooted in the dangerous subtext the role calls for. Mayagoitia is a splendid Sally, however, vulnerable and sexy while nailing all her classic big numbers like “Don’t Tell Mama”, “Maybe This Time” and the title song (despite being upstaged by some distracting staging).

A great addition here is also the inclusion of “Mein Herr”, lifted from the film with the original Bob Fosse choreography and performed to the zenith by Mayagoitia and company. The first-rate choreography by Lainie Sakakura is a definite highlight, along with Amanda Zieve’s precise lighting design, in a production that ultimately does justice to the remarkable music but missteps with reticent direction.

“Cabaret” continues at Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main Street in East Haddam, through July 3rd and masks are required. For further information, call the box office at: 860-873-8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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