Taking on a show like Cabaret in Fort Wayne is no small feat. The 1966 Broadway production, inspired by the 1939 book by Christopher Isherwood, and the most recent revival at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City (closes March 29, 2015) have been hugely successful.How would the more conservative audiences in Fort Wayne respond, though, to a production focused around the nightlife in Berlin’s dodgy Kit Kat Klub? Director Phillip H. Colglazier knows his audience and he knows the show, and he masterfully found a balance between staying true to the feel and content of Cabaret while toning it down enough for local audiences.
Still, the opening number hits viewers hard. “Willkommen” is shocking, a little offensive, and sets the stage for the rest of the show. Colglazier lets audience members know up front if they can’t handle the opening number then they probably can’t handle the rest of the show. It’s a forthright honesty that themes the rest of the production.
The production’s Emcee, Evan Hart, captivates audience members and guides them through the lives of the various characters involved in the Klub with the skill of a seasoned actor. His performance is engaging, raw, and sometimes a little creepy— which works. The character transforms into a symbol throughout the production, and he is able to make a commentary on the larger themes surrounding the show, especially as the power of the Nazi political party grows and becomes a more threatening force in Berlin.
Bridget Pearson is charming as the needy, English Cabaret performer Sally Bowles. Pearson’s vocals are exquisite, and each song is sung with an emotion that allows viewers to delve deeper into the heart of Bowles. Michael Coale is no less extraordinary as Sally’s love interest, American writer Clifford Bradshaw, and the two divulge the complexities and pain that accompanies both their individual lives and their relationship in such a way that allows audience members to feel with them. The doomed romance of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz is no less tragic. No strangers to the stage, Maggie Cole Hunter and Gary Lanier bring heartbreak to the forefront of the audience members’ minds, setting the stage for Emcee’s “If You Could See Her” and clearly defining the larger political themes of the show.
The production, overall, is excellent. The cast is excellent. The directing is excellent. The Kit Kat Klub Band is excellent. The choreography by Leslie Beauchamp is excellent. Audience members, however, won’t leave feeling excellent. As early as the end of the first act, as intermission begins with “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” the audience begins to feel uncomfortable. There’s an internal struggle between applause and celebration of the talented performers and the discomfort viewers feel with the ominous Nazi anthem they just experienced. Likewise, the end of the show leaves viewers with nothing to celebrate and grappling with the real-life takeaways of the show. There is a moment of no applause, not because the production wasn’t fantastic, it’s one of the best, but because emotionally, viewers aren’t ready to celebrate.
The cast doesn’t take it personally. They expect the silence because they know the emotional state of the audience. The reaction, though silent, is exactly the reaction they intended to receive.
The show runs the next two weekends, February 20-22 and Feb 27-March 1. Friday and Saturday shows are at 8pm, Sunday matinees are at 2pm.
Tickets can be purchased from the Civic Theatre website.