After reading responses to the recent production of Cabaret on the TUTS blog, I was inspired to write about audience expectations and propriety in the theatre on my Chron blog here. But I hadn’t seen the show yet…
Now I have. And though I know plenty could live out their days without hearing my opinions on the subject, a few of you have expressed a desire to know what I thought of the production. So here they are…
Sidenote: My date to the musical is a friend and someone who has attended more than a few productions with me over the years. As we sat down in our seats, he leaned over to tell me that had put on his “Jenni-theatre-watching-filter.” You may wonder what this means. What it means is, in short, that I am a pain in the ass to accompany to the theatre. I have a lot of opinions about what I see… and guess what! If you’re sitting next to me, you will get to hear them.
TUTS’ Cabaret: if I had to sum it up, I would say it wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn good. Certainly worth attending… and worth staying through the second act, which concludes with one of the most striking moments in theatre I’ve ever seen.
Especially after the good reviews from trusted sources and after having written the blog, I was hoping to be swept away from the show’s first drum roll. Admittedly, this was not the case. The set was visually interesting; the emcee was as he should be; the voices and costumes were fantastic… but it nonetheless felt like the first few numbers were phoned in. (This isn’t entirely surprising given it was a Tuesday night after a day off. Maybe they were just getting warmed up?) Still, I was surprised that neither Don’t Tell Mama nor Mein Herr– two of the most fun and familiar production numbers- inspired too much applause or stir in the audience. In the case of Mama, I feel like the costumes- though cute- did the number a disservice. No longer was it about the lyrics or the choreography, but about watching Sally and 6 chorus girls fiddle with their costumes in an effort to take them off piece by piece. (If there was ever to be a song about buttons, snaps, and the like, this was it.) Mein Herr lacked the costume complications, but wasn’t much better in terms of pizazz. In the end, Sally’s singing didn’t do it for me in these two numbers. Miss Leslie Kritzer proved herself to be a more than capable singer in several of the later numbers, but her first two simply lacked panache. Perhaps it was her stylistic efforts that obscured the lyrics, but the ends of her vocal phrases were dropped or thrown away in ways that ultimately undermined the camp of the routines.
It was just at the point that my hopes starting waning that Two Ladies restored them. Cute, naughty… but just right. (It was also at this moment that the exodus of offended audience members began. Sadly.) Nonetheless, the emcee was pretty fantastic from start to finish. His was a different emcee than Joel Grey or Alan Cumming, but he won me over with his candid repartee with the audience at the top of Act II… as well as his holding his own in a kick routine with the Kit Kat girls. Big kudos to Leo Ash Evens!
The moments I was positive the show was going in the right direction were the two back-to-back songs: It Couldn’t Please Me More and Tomorrow Belongs to Me. The former was sweet and genuine… and was probably my first laugh-out-loud moment in the show. The latter was beautiful- idyllic even- in harmony and performed by several Adonis-like men and a single dancer. It set the tone for the reprise in a subtle way… hinting of nationalism, but in a less sinister light. The show only gets better from this point…
The action of Cabaret escalates until reaching its pinnacle in the middle of Act 2, in a scene in which Cliff urges Sally to open her eyes to the impending disaster around her. His insistence and her resistance are the jumping-off points for Sally’s final number: Cabaret. And here’s where I get really picky. Vocally, I couldn’t have asked much more from Kritzer… but it seemed as though the song was plucked from a review and placed into the show, rather than coming on the heels of having her hand forced in a stressful decision. In a perfect world, I’d like to see that pressure underneath Sally’s portrayal of Cabaret… isn’t she blowing off steam in that number? The scene following- which was acted beautifully by both Kritzer and Hanes (Cliff)- only emphasized this point in my opinion.
The ending was the highlight of the show. While parts of the show were slightly off the mark, the ending couldn’t have been more perfect. The gradual emptying of the stage, the unresolved chords hanging in the air, the desolation of a society on the brink of collapse- one could see it all. And for that reason, I am saddened for those who chose to walk out of the show earlier, as they missed the culmination of all the vulgarity they witnessed and the ultimate point. For the first time in the entire production, there was silence… from singers, orchestra and audience. That kind of tension isn’t achieved easily.
And here’s the kicker: when it comes to propriety, Houston audiences should start with modifying their own behavior. There was a lot of fidgeting, chatting, and candy unwrapping during this production. And- as my date and I agree- the only things for which you should be rifling through your purse during a show are an asthma inhaler or an epi-pen.
The moral of the story? Go see it. The production is far, far too good to be playing to smaller audiences… help fill in those empty seats this weekend.