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Saturday
Jul282018

Market Theatre’s “Cabaret” a Gritty, Powerful Production

By Paul Hyde, Anderson Observer

Anderson’s Market Theatre has staged a gritty, powerful and satisfyingly decadent production of “Cabaret.”

Under Christopher Rose’s direction, this “Cabaret” begins cheerfully and grows increasingly desperate in tone as it depicts a Weimar Germany goose-stepping toward catastrophe.Photo Courtesy of Escobar Photography

Rose has assembled a strong local cast led by the terrific Meghan Cole as Sally Bowles, the self-centered hedonist who’s too busy having fun as a cabaret girl to notice the Nazi menace sinking its poisonous fangs into 1930s Berlin.

It’s Sally who utters one of the most chilling lines you’ll ever hear in an American musical: “That’s just politics, and what does that have to do with us?”

The musical’s answer, then and now, is “everything.”

Sally sings at Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub, where she meets the young American writer Clifford Bradshaw, and sparks fly.

Their rocky romance is set against the backdrop of the racy entertainment at the cabaret, featuring a chorus of scantily-clad men and women.

“Cabaret” is a musical that manages to be both a dazzler and a sober exploration of how hatred and bigotry can lead a society, almost unthinkingly, off the cliff.

Rose’s direction is taut, dynamic and briskly paced. Rose embraces the audacity of the sexed-up 1998 Broadway revival of “Cabaret.” This is a bold production.

I particularly enjoyed how Rose has his actors remain in the audience even when they are not on stage. Rose also has devised a riveting ending (without giving anything away) that is a coup de theatre.

Ashley Bingham’s Fosse-inspired choreography is edgy and anxious, making the cabaret men and women provocatively sexual rather than sexy. Bingham’s foot-stamping moves at the end of Act 1 – a menacing suggestion of an army on the march – are particularly effective.

The score, by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics), is as vibrant and prickly as when the Tony Award-winning show debuted more than 50 years ago.

Julia West is responsible for the tight musical preparation.

In lieu of live music, this production uses a soundtrack, which works well, although at Friday’s performance the music occasionally overpowered the singers.

Cole, with a commanding stage presence, fully inhabits the role of Sally. A deft actress and singer, Cole delivers showstoppers like “Mein Herr” with ease and confidence. She sings the climatic “Cabaret” as an expression of defiance by a woman hellbent on self-destruction. (But here I’d register a concern about the staging: The song “Cabaret” is one of the most powerful moments of self-assertion in musical theater. But in this production, that mood is undercut by choristers rushing onstage at the end of the song, distracting from Sally’s biggest moment in the spotlight. I thought Sally’s brief breakdown at the conclusion of the song also detracted from the fist-shaking thrust of the number.)

Leading the revels at the Kit Kat Klub is the androgynous Emcee, played here by Dave LaPage, a veteran Greenville actor. LaPage’s compelling Emcee toggles between engaging and sinister. He’s also suave of voice in such songs as “Willkommen” and “I Don’t Care Much.”

Michael Lewis is winning and sympathetic as Clifford Bradshaw, a forthright, decent man, though with a few secrets of his own.

Rachel Jeffreys and Rob Gentry share a few tender scenes as the older couple, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, cruelly divided by the surrounding hatred. Jeffrey’s Fraulein Schneider projects inner strength in numbers like “What Would You Do?” Gentry’s Herr Schultz, meanwhile, is sweet-natured and endearing.

Maggie McNeil is appropriately brash as the prostitute Fraulein Kost. But, surprise, she sings like an angel in her lovely German-language version of the ballad “Married.” McNeil also is responsible for the evocative lighting design.

Matt Groves is the superficially smooth but devious Nazi, Ernst Ludwig.

The Kit Kat women and men are uniformly excellent.

Hazel James Designs is responsible for the sleek and alluring, though not tawdry, costumes.

Only two more performances remain of this bawdy “Cabaret” – Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10. For $50, you get a front-row cabaret table for two and a bottle of wine. Tickets are available at www.themarketanderson.org.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about everything under the South Carolina sun. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7. Write to him at paulhydeus@yahoo.com.

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