Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
There is a sort of mystically sinister spell that seems to reside in the depths of the musical Cabaret. We’ve seen this show numerous times over the years, and it always sparks a sense of foreboding. We saw it again Friday evening and this time, in our current world climate, this vintage musical hit spectacularly close to home.
When first performed in 1966, it was a complete departure from traditional musicals. Written by Joe Masteroff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret harks back to Berlin, Germany around 1930 just as the Third Reich was creeping to power. The horror of what was happening as the Nazis began to infiltrate was masked for a while by music and merriment.
Owosso Community Players (OCP) transformed their Lebowsky Center Theatre space into the Kit Kat Klub thus enticing the audience into participation with the action. As director Garrett Bradley explains, to transport his audience back to 1930 Berlin they have built stairs and platforms that enlarge the stage and move it forward into the house. They have even built spaces for audience members to sit at cabaret tables within the Klub onstage. All of this effort adds immeasurably to the total effect.
Setting the tone was the slimy and insidiously provocative Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub played flawlessly by Adam Woolsey. Sleazy, sexy, even demonic, Woolsey’s baby face belied the torment this asexual, symbolic character endured. Representing the rampant oppression of the time, he was a clear metaphor for both sides. He was everywhere; dancing in the chorus, a piece of “furniture”, or looming over the scene from the second story bandstand. His final symbolism provided a shocking climax.
As Sally Bowles, headliner at the Kit Kat Klub, Megan Mitchell brought truth and a dark sincerity to this role of an English girl caught up in a political climate she neither cares about or understands. Her rendition of the title song was an emotional highpoint sung not in triumph but as an anthem of despair.
Sam Sommer brought innocence and truth to the role of the American writer Clifford Bradshaw. Confused about his place in this climate, he is also unclear about his sexual identity as he falls in love with Sally while having an affair with a boy from the Kit Kat. Still, Sommer is emotionally steady throughout.
There is a subplot at work that stands to foreshadow the strife on the horizon. Anna Owens and Bill Henson handle two strong performances here with care and compassion. As Fraulein Schneider, Owens is the landlady of Clifford’s rooming house. Her growing friendship with the local fruit seller, Herr Schultz (Henson) is sweet to watch. It will come to a sad end as the Nazis grow in power.
The Kit Kat Klub boys and girls are amazing to watch as they dance and pose often as backup to Woolsey. Spinning through many costume changes, this large troupe is scattered onstage and up and down the staircases throughout the show.
The orchestra is located on the second level of the stage and partially out of sight. Conducted by musical director Carl Knipe, this large ensemble provided impeccable accompaniment to this talented and vocally sound cast.
Actually, we were seriously impressed by the expertise not only in performance, but also in lighting, costumes, sound, scene design and set manipulation. Actors were found performing up and down levels both onstage and just outside the proscenium with not one technical glitch.
This was a totally riveting production as it moved with powerful precision to recreate this historically unnerving time. Friday night’s audience reacted appropriately with a stunned silence at play’s end for a few seconds before the applause began.
We highly recommend you get out to Owosso this weekend or next before this one goes away! Cabaret continues at the Lebowsky Center Theater, 122 E. Main Street, Owosso, MI 48867 June 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 989.723.4003 or online at www.owossoplayers.com