Life is a cabaret, old chum.
    It’s also fleeting, beautiful and often brutal, as shown in the wonderful adaptation of the musical Cabaret, which debuted at the Gilbert Theater on Thursday, June 5.
    The musical, which is set in pre-World War II Berlin, is a metaphor for the downward spiral of that country as the Nazis came into power.
    The performances are exhilarating and grand, especially the characters of Master of Ceremonies (Timothy Lee Lloyd) and Sally Bowles (Alexis Chieffet); but throughout, there is an undercurrent of tension and darkness, because as the boys and girls dance gaily and drink and love passionately at the Kit Kat Club, we know a storm of epic death and destruction is tap-dancing on the horizon.
    The action starts in the Kit Kat Club — the kind of place your mother warned you about — in 1930s Berlin. Lloyd, as the Master of Ceremonies welcomes the crowd, surrounded by beautiful cabaret girls and boys, dancing and frolicking, unaware that Germany is on the precipice of the worst case of mass murder in history.
    Lloyd is spectacular, with just the right mix of decadence and playfulness, intimating he loves a good time at all costs — whether it’s with the boys or the girls. His singing and dancing — as is that of the cabaret boys and girls — is spot on.{mosimage}
    The story segues to a train station where we meet two key characters, an expatriate American named Clifford Bradshaw (Jonathan de Araujo) who is traveling restlessly across Europe in search of inspiration to write his novel, finally settling on Berlin. He is joined on the train by Ernst Ludwig (Tom Bresley), the perfect picture of an Aryan — tall, blond and impossibly handsome. Ludwig is smuggling money for the Nazi cause from France and recruits his new friend Bradshaw into the game.
    After Bradshaw settles into the rooming house of Fraulein Schneider (Leslie Craig), he hustles down to the Kit Kat Club where he meets Sally Bowles. They’re obviously attracted to each other, though we know immediately this union will not end well. As Bowles, Chieffet is pitch perfect, displaying a wonderfully husky singing voice and projecting an exceedingly convincing portrait of decadent sexiness, cooing and purring while wearing the slinky clothes of a true chanteuse.
    A subplot running through the musical is the romance between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz (Paul Wilson), a Jewish shop owner. It’s both sad and beautiful to watch these two older lovers take a final chance on love, while we as armchair historians know exactly what’s going to happen to Schultz.
    As the requisite Nazi, Ludwig destroys any chance at love between Schneider and Schultz by reminding her that marrying a Jew could have serious consequences.
    More tragedy ensues when Sally becomes pregnant with — possibly, we never know — Clifford’s baby. Clifford wants the couple to return to America and raise their child in a proper setting, as he sees Germany beginning to crumble. But Sally loves the spotlight too much and sells her prize fur coat to a doctor to abort the baby, returning to her job at the Kit Kat Club.
    Clifford eventually leaves for America, gaining the inspiration to begin his novel as he takes his seat on the train: he writes the story he has just lived through — his damned union with Sally, as well as the cursed engagement of Fraulein Schneider and Her Schultz.
Through it all, the music never stops at the Kit Kat Club, though the performances become increasingly darker, with the ultimate foreshadowing of what’s to come when the Master of Ceremonies dances on stage in a full Nazi regalia, assisted by the Kit Kat girls and boys in the brown shirts of the Nazi youth.
    Standout musical numbers included the performance of the title track by Chieffet, in which she’s dressed like a satin doll and sings like one too.
    Lloyd is masterful in everything he does, giving a randy, raucous performance in which he seems permanently amused by the state of things — life may be going to hell around him, but he’s going to keep on dancing, damn it.
de Araujo shows off a fine singing voice, even if I did find him just a touch too earnest in his role as the not-so-naive American who sees the swastika on the wall, though he can’t convince Sally that the party is about to end.
The entire cast gels as if they’ve performed together for years.
    Highly recommended, old chum.
    The production of Cabaret runs through June 22. You can get show times and ticket information by calling 678-7186, or checking out the theater’s Web site: www.gilberttheater.com.
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