CABARET presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park through Nov. 16. Read the show description.
I’ve always thought CABARET was one of those shows that allowed directors the opportunity to make the show their own in some respects. The production at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park suffers a bit from too much tinkering that doesn’t quite come together for me.
Vocally and musically the show sounds great with a solid orchestra and strong voices from the ensemble. Michael Schweikardt’s set design was good and the lighted Kit Kat Club sign looked great. I understand the functionality need to build the set so far upstage, but it also caused several of the scenes to play out far upstage, adding distance between the cast and the audience.
Performance-wise, a standout for me was Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider. A great interpretation of the character, Murray and Michael Marotta, as Herr Schultz, made a cute couple and had a nice chemistry. Vocally, Murray is a strong singer who sold her songs extremely well.
Leads Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Clifford Bradshaw and Liz Pearce as Sally Bowles do good work, but the chemistry between the two characters seemed lacking. Near the end of the play, in the scene in Cliff’s room following the beating, the tone became a little too melodramatic. It carried over a bit too long into the beginning of “Cabaret.”
The interpretation that did not work well for me was the Emcee played by Nathan Lee Graham. I never felt I understand his role within the musical. And at times his performance was just…odd. His fanatical hand gestures, strange line deliveries in scenes and songs, and character aloofness kept pulling me out of the performance.
From my seat audience left, there were times when I felt like I was watching a performance of CABARET from the wings, as most of the action was staged “forward.” Even simply shifting a number like “Two Ladies” to the other side of the stage, would pay those seats a bit of attention and still maintain good sight lines. To me, it felt that some of the blocking and choreography was massaged for the Marx Theater, but not re-staged.
I thought the costumes, designed by Angela Wendt, looked perfect for the character’s everyday wear. In the Kit Kat Club though, I thought some the costumes were a bit too lavish for a simple cabaret. The white long skirts at the beginning of the kick line looked heavy. When all the dancers were spinning it reminded me of the dancing napkins in “Beauty and the Beast.” When I saw the flash of color inside, I thought perhaps the skirts would be used for differently, but they weren’t.
I always thought the Kit Kat Klub numbers were meant to be fun and light to help offset the heaviness of the book scenes. Over second act, the growing power of the Nazis begins to creep in the numbers. Several of the smaller numbers seemed to lack energy and fun. I also didn’t understand putting two guys in drag in “The Money Song,” mainly because it doesn’t read at a distance because of the way they were styled and costumed.
Overall CABARET at Playhouse is a decent production, but for me the reasoning behind some decisions were unclear. If you go, I’d recommend sitting in the sections away from the main doors.
Complete list of show times for CABARET.
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