CABARET by Joe Masteroff, John Kander and Fred Ebb (Stratford Festival). Runs in rep to Oct 25. $39-??$109, stu/srs $28-??$79. See Continuing, page 90. Avon Theatre, Stratford. 1-??800-??567-??1600, stratfordfestival.ca. Rating: NNNN
Omnisexual musical refuses to make nice
I love a cabaret, especially in the form of this musical.
For one thing, this show is about something – unlike last year’s Stratford production of Oklahoma, which pursues the not very intense theme of who’s going to take Laurie to the box social. Here, the setting is Berlin in the 30s, just as Germany is going insane.
Second, it’s got huge queer potential, which Stratford’s production definitely mines. Everybody’s doing it with everybody, right from the opening song, Wilkommen.
The characters are complex and mostly not very likeable: the demonic emcee, the amoral cabaret performer Sally Bowles and the affably weak writer, Cliff, who falls for her.
Don’t go into this Stratford production (and I’m talking in particular to fans of the film) with any preconceptions. Except for emcee Bruce Dow’s girth, this version is leaner and meaner.The brilliant Dow, who watches over the characters’ every move, has a large, menacing presence.
Trish Lindström as Sally is not at all cute and nice like Liza Minnelli. She’s a manic bundle of nerves and doesn’t give a shit whether she grabs you by the heartstrings. Her rendition of the title song is meant to terrify, and though it’s a bit rushed, it does just that.
The love story between the Jewish fruit vendor Schultz (Frank Moore) and the landlady Schneider (a compelling Nora McLellan) is where it should be – front and centre.
Director Amanda Dehnert, obviously influenced by Sam Mendes’s famous 1998 revival, conveys the incremental loss of privacy and civil liberties in Weimar Germany by keeping members of the cabaret company onstage to eavesdrop on everybody’s actions.
While the production numbers are powerful, the smaller, quieter songs outside of the cabaret are less so – a function of the fact that, as songs, they’re just not as good.
Still, this is aggressive, in-?your-?face musical theatre, going to more disturbing places than Stratford musicals usually dare.