By Ashley Ramsey
Utah Rep has quickly made a home for itself in the Utah theatre scene with their rarely done and new theatre productions. When Cabaret was announced as one of their 2016 productions, it seemed a match made in heaven. It was exciting to hear the buzz it created throughout the theatre community as this rarely done, but beloved musical got under way.
Cabaret tells the story of pre-WWII Berlin and the American writer, Cliff Bradshaw who is hoping to find inspiration for his next novel in the city. Cliff quickly finds his world turned upside down when his life becomes intertwined with Sally Bowles, a performer at the seedy Kit Kat Club. The story envelopes the rest of the boarding house residents and Kit Kat Club performers as the rise of the Nazi party begins to change their future forever.
Oftentimes it can be quite daunting taking on a show that is immortalized famously on film, but the UT Rep cast does a phenomenal job making this show their own. Teresa Sanderson’s portrayal of the Emcee is spot on. Traditionally portrayed by a male actor, the use of a female actor brings a new and fresh dynamic that Sanderson fully embraces. It is always a treat to see an actor who embodies the concept and story fully and Sanderson delivers that. Other noteworthy performances are Jane Luke’s portrayal of Fraulein Schneider and Michael Neilsen’s Herr Schultz. Both actors command of the stage is enthralling and they create such a wonderful chemistry onstage. “It Couldn’t Please Me More” is so sweetly delightful and sets you up to root for the couple the rest of the show.
Anne Louise Brings and Johnny Hebda tell the other half of the love story as Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw. It is no doubt how Cliff falls for Sally as Brings creates such a vivacious, charismatic character. Brings does a wonderful job of following the character arch of Sally and brings a steady nuance to a role that can easily be overdone. Both Hebda and Brings were more than capable of handling the vocal requirements of the roles and their voices of blend well to each other’s in “Perfectly Marvelous”. Unfortunately, there was not much romantic chemistry between the two actors, which sometimes left you doubting what their relationship was. Hebda’s physicality seemed somewhat clunky and awkward in romantic moments with Brings.
The ensemble as a whole absolutely shines in this production. Most of them portray multiple roles and their characters were so different it was rarely noticed. The structure of the play can make it hard to create seamless transitions and keep the action flowing, but the ensemble kept things moving smoothly. Outstanding ensemble members Karli Rose Lowry and Dawn Veree are both so incredibly committed to whenever they were onstage. They both shared an uncanny ability to connect with the audience in key moments through out the show.
Music direction by Anne Puzey was outstanding. Not only does her talent and vision show with the actors onstage, but her live band really added to the ambiance of a night club when needed but also easily faded away in moments where the underscoring gave way to the spotlight of moments on stage,
Director L.L. West sets the mood as soon as your enter the theatre. Upon arrival, do not be surprised to find a young, shirtless German boy eager to help you find a seat. The house is open seating and I recommend arriving early to get good seats. The Sorenson Unity Center Black Box theatre lends itself well to what you would imagine a small seedy night club might feel like. The intimate venue, combined with West’s in your face (and sometimes in your seats) blocking makes you pay attention to the larger questions being asked. The movement of the characters in and out of the scenes is as fluid as the sexuality of our characters and creates a world you can quickly get lost in. It was also incredibly refreshing to see a variety of body types and looks on the stage. Nancy Cannon does an incredible job at dressing the actors in true to time ensembles that perfectly add to West’s vision. I always appreciate Cannon’s dedication to staying true to her time period and keeping her actors stunning on stage.
Highlighted as well is Ashley Gardner-Carlson’s choreography. While paying homage to the expected Bob Fosse-esque choreography, Gardner-Carlson carves out a movement story that is her own. Her expertise really shines during the large group numbers in her ability to fill the space. “Two Ladies” was especially fun in the combination of comedy and sex appeal. Another highlight for dance fans will be the intense moments of “Money”.
Cabaret stands as an incredibly poignant and startling relevant piece for this moment in time. While Utah Rep’s production has a few hiccups here and there, the overall message of the show is not one that should be ignored. This show will make you uncomfortable in the best way. It will challenge you to ask yourself some hard questions. As with all good theatre, it will stay with you and you won’t be able to shake it. But maybe that’s the point.
Cabaret runs 8/26 through 9/11 at the Sorenson Unity Black Box Theatre with both evening and matinee showings available. General Admission tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for Students and Seniors. Special Cabaret seating which includes mocktails, snacks and the best view of the show are available for $35. 7:30 PM
Due to the mature nature of the show, it is not recommended for children.