Music Theater of Connecticut, Westport
Come to the “Cabaret”—the one now ensconced at the Music Theatre of Connecticut (a cozy retreat in Westport which is a first-class theater and musical theater school). The company, under Kevin Connors’ inspired direction, brings a new interpretation to this time-honored show.
We all know “Cabaret” from its many incarnations, on stage and screen. Based on novelist Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories, “Cabaret” depicts the menacing world of pre-Nazi Germany. It follows the fortunes and misfortunes of Cliff Bradshaw (a stand-in for Isherwood himself), a visitor to Germany in 1930.
The show’s plot is indeed familiar to any theater or filmgoer. Bradshaw, a young American would-be writer, comes to Berlin to work on his novel. He meets the wacky English girl, Sally Bowes, who performs at the Kit-Kat Club. When Sally is thrown out of her lover’s apartment, she moves in on the protesting Cliff. Sally and her values—or absence of values—is an eye-opener to the naïve Cliff. He is somewhat repelled, but mostly fascinated. The rise and fall of their love story plays out against the oncoming Nazi world. As a counterpoint is the love story of Herr Schultz and Fraulein Shneider, whose relationship ultimately crumbles because Schultz is Jewish.
Connors, in creating this “Cabaret,” has adapted to the limitations of his pocket-sized stage—and, in so doing, manages to turn lemons into lemonade. The intimate MTC setting encourages the viewer to empathize deeply with the characters and the world they inhabit. Ultimately it is a poignant tale for viewers and characters alike.
While the male performers come across rather more strongly than the women, the entire cast does a fine job, often doubling in roles. But Stuart Zagnit as Herr Schultz is particularly memorable. Every song, every speech, is right on target. It may be because Zagnit, as the Jewish greengrocer, is the story’s immediate and most obvious victim. But Ryan Reilly creates an earnest, handsome, vulnerable (and certainly irresistible) Cliff. And Eric Scott Kincaid creates an outsized Emcee who is the very symbol of that era, meeting the standards set by such previous Emcees as Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. But Daniel Robert Sullivan is a properly scary Nazi and Johnny Orenberg is right on target in numerous roles. As to the three women, Dorothy Stanley creates a thoroughly believable Fraulein Schneider, though her songs sometimes fade away. Kudos also to Marty Bongfeldt as the world-wweary prostitute, Fraulein Kost. Melissa Carlile-Price, as Sally Bowes, has the toughest assignment of all. Though she does create the fragile, delusional character most convincingly, one cannot help but recall her predecessors—Natasha Richardson, and the best of them all—Liza Minelli! But everyone in this team contributes beautifully—from Lainie Munro (choreographer) to the musicians David Wolfson and Chris Johnson.
Ultimately, Connors (MTC’s artistic director) is the hero of the day, staging this show with so much resourcefulness and originality that it becomes a new—and memorable—experience.
Nov. 12, 2011