Extravagant Fun at Milwaukee Rep’s ‘Cabaret’
season premiere spares no effort to produce one of its most lavish, energizing
shows with a terrific onstage band including musical spots often deleted.
opening “Willkommen” and the talented Lee Ernst as master of ceremonies, the
show explodes into being as the Kit Kat Klub lights up with an invigorating glitz that barely lets
up. Cabaret is the
largest full-scale musical
ever mounted on the Quadracci Powerhouse stage, a first for Artistic Director
Mark Clements as well as a choreographic first for classical ballet aficionado
Michael Pink, whose dance
ensembles send the production into giddy orbit. Sets and costumes change so
rapidly that it takes moments to grasp that the figure in black corset is Lee
has never been more fun.
Bisexuality is barely fussed over. The Kit Kat is for everyone and the delights
of boys approaching boys or girls is just part of the intoxicating hegemony
provided by the music. Kelley Faulkner as Sally Bowles may not erase memories
of Liza’s gentler musicality, but her rendition of Sally is more firmly
grounded within the concept of this show, stressing the harsher realities. Her approach to the vocal demands of the
title song resonated
with a more genuine irony, bringing the house down. As the innocent American
writer Clifford Bradshaw, Geoffrey Hemingway brings a powerful voice to a
romance with Sally that will come to naught. Angela Iannone provides a hilarious cameo as Fraulein Kost, requiring regular visiting “sailor friends” to provide income for her rent.
The first swastika appears casually at the engagement party of the old couple, Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, beautifully played by Linda Stephens and Jonathan Gillard Daly. She will discover that he is Jewish. They will not marry. Act One closes with the famously chilling choral number “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” giving the show its true gravitas not only as a premonition but an eerie reminder that even myopic blinders—so easily assumed behind the glare of the Kit Kat Klub—cannot completely erase an awareness that something evil this way comes. Many will find the second act a tad too political, but this remarkable production provides a new hallmark for the Rep’s enduring reputation.