By Karen Isaacs
The current production of Cabaret now at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre at UConn in Storrs through July 21, has many excellent elements.
If I started enumerating the small missteps – and some not so small – you might think this is not a production worth seeing.
But it is worth seeing due to some fine performances and production elements.
First of all, Dee Hoty who has multiple Tony nominations to her credit is outstanding as Fraulein Schneider. She brings a quiet dignity to the role. She doesn’t succumb to the potential pathos in the role or overplay the humor. She is controlled and rational. Her songs, “So What” and “What Would You Do” are emotional highlights of the show. Jonathan Brody, another Broadway veteran, is Herr Schultz who woos and momentarily wins her until reality horns in to spoil their “happily ever after.” He too bring dignity, not falling into stereotypes but creating a man who feels German through and through.
Another highlight of the production is Leslie Blake Walker who plays both a member of the ensemble but shines as Fraulein Kost – the prostitute who is the bane of Fraulein Schneider’s existence and a Nazi sympathizer. She makes this character multi-dimensional.
But you notice I have not mentioned the two main characters: the Emcee and Sally Bowles. It is not because their performances are poor; it is just that their performances don’t seem to truly capture the spirit of the show. Both are difficult roles. And the two actors struggle with them; sometimes their struggle is partly because of directorial or production misjudgments.
Forrest McClendon is an established Broadway ‘name” with the credits to proof it. (He received a Tony nomination for his performance in the Broadway Scottsboro Boys). Yet, as the Emcee, he just missed. He sings well, he dances nicely, but there is something missing. He doesn’t immediately capture you and as the show progresses you don’t see him slowly descend into the sleaze. Some of this is not his fault. One element of his costume – a bowler hat with a rhinestone band – distracts; as the show darkens, this hat seems to undercut the tone. Another established precedent for the show is that the Emcee’s makeup should become more grotesque as the show progresses. In this case, it did appear to; McClendon’s Emcee looked and acted the same throughout the show.
Sally Bowles is a challenging role that has been performed best by fine actresses – Judy Dench (the London original production), Jill Haworth (the Broadway original production), Natasha Richardson (the 1998 Broadway revival) and others.
Why? Sally isn’t supposed to be a great singer. She is singing in a decadent, second rate cabaret; she thinks she is a star, but she isn’t. Instead she is a complex woman whose delusions are just one of her problems. This takes a very actress.
When someone with a big, excellent voice does the role (think of Liza Minnelli in the movie) it is hard to see her as someone who is not in touch with reality about her talent. What would she be doing in the place?
Laura Michelle Kelly faces that problem as Sally and doesn’t overcome it. She has much too good a voice to convince us that she is hanging on t0 this minimal “career”. Plus she doesn’t convince us that she is this amoral, “devil take care” woman. It’s unfortunate.
With any production of Cabaret, it is a guessing game as to which version will be used (there are several and each includes or eliminates certain numbers from either the original or the film.) This version the only solo for Cliff, the writer who is telling the story, Thus Rob Baines, has little to do.
The ensemble looks much too clean cut for girls working at this third rate cabaret where many liaisons occur.
Peter Flynn is the credited director, though another director began rehearsals and then withdrew. He did a good job with the casting and concept he was given.
Christopher d’Amboise does a good job with the choreography though some of it seems unrelated to the time period or story..
Production elements: Alexander Woodward’s set, Fan Zhang’s costumes, Michael Vincent Skinner’s sound and Timothy Reed’s lighting were all effective.
This production is one of those that should be so much better than it is. But to see Dee Hoty as Fraulein Schneider is worth overlooking the other faults.
For tickets, contact CRT.