Recommended Theater: CABARET (The Old Globe)

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by Tony Frankel on August 31, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Cabaret was and remains one of the boldest and most innovative experiments in the history of musical theater, a ravishing work that has neither lost its power nor its pertinence no matter what one does with it. (If you think you’ve seen Cabaret because you saw the movie, you don’t know this show.) With a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, it’s a theatrically electrifying, dramatically thrilling portrait of a moment in history that can never be ignored — the rise of Nazism in post-depression Germany — because it should never be repeated. It of course looks a lot like a metaphor for own own bewildering times. Perhaps that is why productions of Cabaret are popping up worldwide, with the London version headed to Broadway. In San Diego alone, Cygnet did it last year, Wildsong’s revival ended on August 20, and now The Old Globe’s must-see version opens tomorrow, September 1 and runs through October 8, 2023.

The cast of Asolo Repertory Theatre's Cabaret

I spoke with a friend who saw this visionary new staging of Cabaret at Asolo Repertory Theatre in November 2022, and loved it. Director/choreographer Josh Rhodes (Bright Star, Guys and Dolls) reimagines this wonderful show, injecting bold new energy into its remarkable score, and finding vital new echoes in its themes. “And he does this while enhancing all the sexy and anarchic theatricality for which Cabaret is celebrated. Cabaret asks us to reexamine our ideas about how the personal and the political intersect in tumultuous times. Rhodes and his collaborators find brand new power in this bracing revival,” echoes Artistic Director Barry Edelstein.

Based on gay author Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Diaries, and the ensuing play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, Cabaret is a cautionary tale about getting caught up in history and getting out just in time. The author’s surrogate, Clifford Bradshaw (Alan Chandler), slowly gets tangled in the dirty doings of 1929 Berlin, enjoying its last fling of freedom before the Weimar Republic succumbs to the Third Reich. Cliff doggedly bears witness to his own seduction as a poor expatriate; both as a smuggler employed by the infamous Ernst Ludwig (Alex Gibson), then as a bodymate (no soul here) with self-destructive Sally Bowles (Joanna A. Jones), a capricious goodtime girl and second-rate singer who won’t let the party end. Harold Prince’s reimagined musical version introduced the Master of Ceremonies, or Emcee (Lincoln Clauss), a character who theatrically put Sally less in the center than on the margins.

Corinne Munsch, Lincoln Clauss, and Michael Seltzer in Asolo Repertory Theatre's Cabaret.

Equally entrapped by the bad times that will doom millions are Cliff’s landlady Fräulein Schneider (Kelly Lester) and her ersatz lover Herr Schultz (Bruce Sabath), a Jewish fruitmonger who forlornly hopes that being born German will protect him from the Brown Shirts. Renting at Scneider’s boarding house is Fräulein Kost (Abby Church) —  it’s always fascinating to remember that the Nazi’s chief female supporter is a whore.

Cabaret is a rollercoaster of laughs, romance, and two-by-fours to the head, as heavy themes come out time and again, amid people just trying to live their lives in terrible times. As we listen to the undeserving masses boldly declaring in song “Tomorrow Belongs To Me,” it’s hard not to think of hundreds storming the Capitol, believing this outcry. It’s easy to hide in the Kit Kat Klubs of the world where the Emcee tells us — or, rather, warns us — that “Life Is Beautiful!”, but Cabaret reminds us that no matter how loud the band may play, there’s a stronger drum beat in the distance and we’d better be listening.

The cast of Asolo Repertory Theatre's Cabaret

Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
Tues & Wed at 7; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
September 1 – October 8, 2023 (official press opening Wed, September 6 at 7)
for tickets, call 619.234-5623 or visit The Old Globe

The cast also includes Christian Douglass as Max, Yoni Haller as Herman, Brandon Halvorsen as Victor, Leeds Hill as Hans, Karma Jenkins as Texas, Celeste Lanuza as Frenchie, Trina Mills as Helga, Natalia Nieves-Melchor as Lulu, Michael Seltzer as Bobby, and Amy Smith as Rosie.In addition to Rhodes, the creative team includes for Cabaret includes scenic design by Tijana Bjelajac, costume design by Alejo Vietti, lighting design by Cory Pattak and Paul Vaillancourt, sound design by Haley Parcher, hair, wig, and makeup design by Michelle Hart, music direction by Robert Meffe, additional arrangements by Angela Steiner, fight direction and intimacy staging by Rachel Flesher, cultural competency consultant DeWanda Smith Soeder, associate director Lee Wilkins, associate choreographer Natalia Nieves-Melchor, casting by Tara Rubin Casting/Felicia Rudolph, CSA, and production stage management by Anjee Nero.

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