The Garden Theater was lit up again last night as the Short North Stage presented their season opener, the musical Cabaret. Written by Joe Masteroff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret is another wonderful choice for the still raw and lovely Garden Theater. More renovations have taken place since last season’s Follies, but the theater is still a gorgeous backdrop for the post World War I Berlin in the 1920s.
JJ Parkey opens the play as the Emcee for the Kit Kat Klub with a flashy dance number to introduce the sexily clad Kit Kat Girls and Boys. Noah Rogers choreographed all of the high-energy dance numbers and several wonderful kick lines.
Many writers, artists, scientists and other intellectuals came to Berlin during that time to enjoy what was becoming a sin city atmosphere of loosened social mores and anything goes attitudes. Clifford Bradshaw (played by Chris Shea) was a novelist on a journey to find a city to write his great book. Cabaret is based on the writings The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, who traveled to Berlin during the same time and wrote about his experiences there.
On his way into the city, Cliff meets a new friend on the train, Ernst Ludwig (played by Jason David Collins) who promises to help him get acquainted with the city. Ernst sets him up with a room at Fraulein Schneider’s place. Josie Merkle is great in her character as an older German woman who can easily give some of her tenants a hard time for the way they are living, then turn around to others and be a darling lady.
Cliff gets set up in his apartment and then finds his way to the Kit Kat Klub. It’s there that he meets the gorgeous English lady Sally Bowles (played by Kaitlin Descutner). Descutner has a marvelous stage presence. She’s tall, beautiful, and easily fills the enter theater with her gorgeous voice. She’s the lead in quite a few song and dance numbers and she’s great to watch.
While at the club, Cliff is approached by Bobby (played by Jeff Fouch) and a previous relationship between the two is mentioned, but it takes a back seat to the relationship that develops between Cliff and Sally.
Throughout the first act, Herr Schultz (played by Joel Cohen) -an older Jewish, but German-born man- is courting Fraulein Schneider. Schultz owns a fruit shop and often brings Fraulein Schneider gifts, the best being a beautiful pineapple. Seeing Merkle’s blushing acceptance of this gift was so sweet!
Watching the chemistry unfold between Merkle and Cohen was the highlight of the play for me. They have a couple of songs together and they are just so lovely. Their love story during the first act is a nice balance to the much seedier and unhappy second act.
As if on cue, Mother Nature started up a rainstorm that added to the ambiance for the second act. The Nazi party is coming into power, bringing the youth under their wing. Fraulein Schneider begins to worry that she is making a bad choice marrying the Jewish Herr Schultz. Herr Schultz feels everything is fine and asks, “is it a crime to fall in love?” His persuasions are not convincing enough for Fraulein Schneider to be willing to risk her entire livelihood. She worries that the Nazis are everywhere – they are your friends, your neighbors, your children. Their sweet love story unravels.
Cliff becomes increasingly unsure of his friend Ernst as he reads more and more about the changing political climate happening in Berlin. He wants to go home to America and take Sally with him. She’s unsure about leaving and feels the only thing that is sure is her place at the Kit Kat Club. Their relationship unravels.
Cliff manages to escape Berlin just as the play ends with Herr Schultz being imprisoned and the Nazis taking over as the stage glows red. It’s a harrowing ending that was to signify “the end of the world.”
Director Scott Hunt dedicates all performances of Cabaret to the victims of the Holocaust. The Jewish people were also your friends, your neighbors, your children. How were people able to suddenly turn on their friends? To suddenly be able to classify a person they had known for years as someone worth less than yourself and commit atrocious acts against them? With Cabaret, Short North Stage continues to bring relevant and fantastic material to Columbus.
Feature Image by Gary White. Kaitlin Descutner (as Sally Bowles, center) and Ann Glaviano and Dionysia Williams (front, left to right) and Cate Owens, Adrianne Krauss, Rose Babington and Karly Sites (rear, left to right) as the Kit Kat Klub Girls perform “Don’t Tell Mama” in Short North Stage’s production of Cabaret.
Short North Stage presents Cabaret at the Garden Theater. The play is directed by Scott Hunt. Remaining performances include September 22, 28, 29, October 5 and 6 at 8pm, September 23, 30, October 7 at 3pm. Tickets are $30 and VIP tickets are $40. Seating is on a first come, first served basis. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit shortnorthstage.org.