Venue: Vancouver Centre for the Performing Arts Dates: 13 - 23 March 2003

Director: B T McNicholl Musical Director: Patrick Vaccariello

Reviewer: John Jane

When the Centre for the Performing Arts re-opened its doors last spring after three years of hibernation, it was considered that this magnificent 2,000-seat amphitheatre, with its 100 foot wide stage would once again be Vancouver’s prime venue for large scale tour productions such as Kander and Ebb’s brilliant stage musical, Cabaret.

To arrive at this point, Cabaret has undergone numerous adaptations, including Bob Fosse’s unforgettable 1972 film. This dark, somewhat grotesque, film version naturally relies more on Christopher Isherwood’s original story than does this stage musical. Isherwood, who recorded his personal observations of the rise of the Nationalsozialistische Parti (Nazi Party) in the mid-1930s and eventually compiled them into a volume of short stories entitled Berlin Stories.

With sixteen memorable songs, this production manages to encapsulate that stormy period of pre-war Germany into a musical event with guts and a powerful storyline. The setting switches seamlessly between Fraulein Schneider’s rooming house and the subverted confines of the Kit Kat Klub. This is helped very much by a simple yet imaginative split level set design, with the mezzanine floor providing the platform for a visible ‘in-character’ orchestra. A large, illuminated frame unevenly mounted, centered across the set provides an odd focal point.

The Kit Kat Klub provides the dynamic venue, through the antics of its "Emcee" that so graphically illustrate the prevalent downward spiraling moral decay, and depraved sexuality. Michael Brown is awesome as the deliciously nasty Emcee who makes no attempt to hold back the decadence, but rather embraces it and is happy to be invited to the party. Brown, simultaneously vulgar clown and commentator, sets the style of the show whenever he is on or near the stage. An especially over-the-top scene in the first act, was with the risqué number “Two Ladies,” which Brown performed with Markus Ferraro in drag and Kendra Stillwell, beyond a mere suggestion of menage à trois.

Juxtaposed is Fraulein Schneider’s house where political decay, and the foreshadowing menace of Nazi tyranny is played out through the owner’s tender relationship with a kind Jewish merchant. Even after intimacy they continue to address each other formally by their last names. There is one especially chilling moment, half way through the second act, when a brick is dropped onto the stage floor, to the accompaniment of a loud CRASH! A sinister reference to Krystallnacht perhaps, though the November 1938 episode must surely have taken place much later.

Lucy Sorlucco, one of only two cast members over fifty, is outstanding as Fraulein Schneider. She carries quite a load for a supporting role, delivering three of the show’s songs.
Ryan Cutlip and Daniel Shevlin both offer deliberately transparent performances in their roles of the sexually confused American traveller and the Nazi sympathizer, they present a perfect foil to the outrageous Sally and Emcee. Amy Downing, despite her commitment, is alas, a lightweight as the pathetically deluded burlesque entertainer, Sally Bowles, although it maybe unfair to compare her with Molly Ringwald and Lisa Minelli, who set the standard for the role with their award winning portrayals.

For anyone reading this review, and intending to see the show, I would prefer not to reduce the impact of the final scene. I’m sure the audience left the theatre at the end of the evening entertained and provoked.

© 2003, John Jane