From: The Southampton Press 9/16/04
A Return To Original 'Cabaret'
By Lee Davis
A sad prelude: Fred Ebb, the lyricist of "Cabaret," and, with composer John Kander, one of the last surviving creators of the American musical theater's golden age, died last Saturday, leaving an aching void on Broadway.
One of the thousand qualities live theater possesses that helps to account for its 3,000-plus years (and counting) of vibrant life is its unpredictability. What's happening in the here and now is always subject to unforeseen occurrences, which in turn become part of what makes this medium so exciting.
That being said, the unpredictability gremlin was apparently working overtime in the preparation of the Gateway Playhouse's current production of "Cabaret." The cover story is that Daisy Eagen, slated to play the leading role of Sally Bowles, left the cast five days before the opening because of "a family emergency." Three days later, Jason Dula, who had come in tandem with Ms. Eagen to play opposite her in the leading male role, also left the cast, for an astonishingly parallel "family emergency."
Crash time for director Dom Ruggiero and casting director Robin Jay Allan, who came up with two delightful, even de-lovely winners. Stepping into the role of Sally Bowles a mere and probably hysterical five days before opening, Erin Maguire emerges as a bona fide star. And, filling the Clifford Bradshaw shoes an even more astonishing two days before opening, Jared Bradshaw appears as an ingratiating and strong-voiced romantic lead. Thus, a happy ending-or rather-beginning.
The current Gateway production of "Cabaret" is the original 1966 Harold Prince realization of the show-considerably cleaner and neater and in many ways more subtly sinister than the later, severely rethought versions by Bob Fosse on film and Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall on Broadway. In place of in-your-face and down-and-dirty from the get-go, there's a sotto voce undercurrent, delivered in Bellport by a white-faced Kevin Loreque as a securely buttoned up MC.
In the first act of this "Cabaret," it's the words and the music of John Kander and Fred Ebb that supply the squalor and foreboding and irresponsible live-for-the-moment sensuality, in the numbers delivered in the show's decadent interior showcase, the Kit Kat Klub.
Although he becomes more menacing as the play progresses, shedding parts of his costume and his makeup along the way, Mr. Loreque has neither the mock jovial menace of Joel Grey nor the terminal decadence of Allan Cumming. No matter. Though there's nary a torn stocking in the high stepping, beckoning and black-gartered chorus, they've been given requisite raunch in the spirited choreography of Timothy Albrecht, the costumes of Marianne Dominy and a knockout cabaret setting by Michael Boyer (the remainder of the show is also moodily captured in loving and precise detail by Mr. Boyer), and so the show gets off to a wildly exciting, faintly ominous opening.
From here to the end of act one, this "Cabaret" becomes, under director Dom Ruggiero's sure hand, a deliberately lighthearted look at Berlin in the 1930s-sleazy, perhaps, but allowing for the sweetness of human relationships to develop. In the way that Hal Prince saw it in 1966, director Ruggiero allows what's to come to be largely buried under good cheer and some romance by relegating the social comment to the scenes in the Kit Kat Klub. This was, after all, Broadway's first "concept musical," and as a first, it saved its impact for the last moments of the first act.
Perhaps the sunniness, in Bellport, of Alice Cannon as Fraulein Schneider, the landlady on whose premises live the blowsy prostitute Fraulein Kost (played with hedonistic abandon by Alicia Irving), American writer Clifford Bradshaw, and, eventually, Sally Bowles, is at odds with the classic, world weary and therefore hard-bitten original portrayal by Lotte Lenya-which made her desperate melting under the kindness of Herr Schultz (Andy Gale in a semi-German, but still touching portrayal) all the more tragic. Still, Ms. Cannon is a consummate actress, and her and director Ruggiero's decision to soften the character does no violence to credibility. Her two numbers with Mr. Gale, "It Couldn't Please Me More" and "Married," are fulfilling and touching. It's only in her expository solo, "So What," that the softness interferes.
And that brings us to the character of Sally Bowles, whom Bob Fosse magnified several hundred times to accommodate the presence of Liza Minnelli in the film version. Alas, this is the picture and therefore the expectation in the minds of most audience members today, who, if they were there in 1966, would know that the character of Sally Bowles isn't nearly as fleshed out (in many respects) as it was in the movie and the latest Broadway revival.
Still, the role has much meat in it, and Erin Maguire conveys this, delightfully. Doubly delightfully, considering the circumstances of her star turn. "I haven't had time to sink into the role yet," she exhaled after the opening night performance. Sink into it further, she must have meant, for on opening night she was marvelously engaging and deliciously naughty and careless.
It was good to hear the original Sally Bowles songs-"Don't Tell Mama" and "Perfectly Marvelous"-which are missing from the film and revivals, and to revel in a thrilling rendition of "Cabaret," despite its being mysteriously staged off center. It's a sure bet that Ms. Maguire will only become perfectly marvelous during the show's run.
Patrick Q. Kelly's musical direction is sure and boisterous, particularly in the Kit Kat Klub set pieces. Mr. Loreque's "If You Could See Her," the gorilla number, is particularly effective, as is "The Money Song," written for the film and now an obligatory part of every revival of "Cabaret."
But now to the foremost virtue of the original production of this musical, which director Ruggiero has solidly re-created and in one case expanded. The overlay of humor to the underground cynicism is suddenly blasted out of sight in the closing moments of the first act, when Ernst Ludwig (Patrick Porter), who has convinced Clifford Bradshaw to convey money from Paris to the Nazi party in Berlin, reveals himself as a full fledged Nazi at the engagement party of Fraulein Schneider and the Jewish shop owner Herr Schultz. And so, when Fraulein Kost then launches into a fierce rendition-gradually joined by the German young men and one Nazi youth-of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," the effect is bone chilling.
Equally chilling-though not entirely realized on opening night-is an ending Mr. Ruggiero has appended to the show. Its purpose is admirable and solid, but that purpose erases the show's punctuation, which, on opening night, confused the audience. More unpredictability that, by the time this review appears, should be fixed.
In sum, this solid and satisfying production of "Cabaret," running through October 3 at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, provides a strong ending to a particularly impressive 54th season. The Gateway box office number is 286-1133.
Copyright, The Southampton Press