History in the Making

While ugly shadows loom on the walls


“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play.” Indeed. Let those words by Fred Ebb stir your feet. He wrote them almost 50 years ago. Can you believe it? That’s when his, John Kander’s and Joe Masteroff’s Cabaret began its phenomenal, legendary life.  It still thrives,having just completed its fourth Broadway run last month. And stays alive and vigorous as produced by Creighton University.

A good theatre company with good talent can readily bring this off, as in this instance, given the many virtues of the concept, the script, the songs. As you once again witness it, you’re bound to be impressed by the singing, the dancing, Stephen Sheftz’s orchestra and Lindsay Pape’s costumes. Two performances glow and shine with talent, those of Creighton student Ephraim Harnsberger as the Emcee and guest performer Judy Radcliff interpreting Fräulein Schneider. Plus director Amy Lane and choreographer Patrick Roddy keep the whole thing moving in its own relentless way.    

But make no mistake, Kander, Ebb and Masteroff gave them something worth their effort and your attention, lo these many years after Cabaret made its debut.  

The source is a novel by Christopher Isherwood based on his own experiences in increasingly decadent Berlin just ripe for exploitation by the Nazis ca 1930. Turned into a stage play and then a movie titled I Am a  Camera, the musical became a brilliant spin-off, actually in an episodic cabaret style, much akin to the kind of theatre Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill were creating at that same time and place. FYI: When the show opened on Broadway, Lotte Lenya, Weill’s widow, famed interpreter of his songs back in the days when they were new, had a leading role.  

Kander and Ebb’s songs within the Kit Kat Klub comment on, reflect and underscore what is happening to a few significant characters and to what is happening outside in Berlin and across Germany. Things get increasingly ugly. Masteroff’s characters are only sketched -in, Brecht-like.

There are just four major ones. They are writer Clifford Bradshaw, young English night club singer Sally Bowles, Cliff’s landlady Fraülein Schneider and her would-be Jewish suitor Herr Schultz. There is some kind of a tentative romance between sexually uncertain Cliff and amoral Sally, somewhat paralleling a possible union between the two older people.

The Emcee is not exactly a character; he’s never defined as a real person and never directly relates to those people. He’s a theatrical device. 

Masteroff came up with lean, direct dialogue, but has planted disturbing harbingers of where Germany was going, such as one which foreshadows brutal Kristallnacht.Or having the Emcee dance with a gorilla, as if embracing the thugs who will soon rule the streets. Ebb’s night club lyrics have satiric bite at every turn, perfectly matched to Kander’s snappy sass.  In other scenes, Ebb well spells out developments where Kander has created a rich variety of memorable music, including several pungent waltzes and a bony tango or two.

Radcliff’s performance stays impeccably right. Truthful and in fine voice. Harnsberger’s take on the Emcee remains full of wonderful manic energy. And, as Clifford Bradshaw, Brady Moe conveys all the right confused and vulnerable innocence.

The program book does not tell readers that this production is based on the 1998 version of the show, although an advance press release does. Thus, it is not clear if Michael Gibson’s brilliant 1998 orchestrations are the ones used. But the music’s pulsing, savage rhythms add compelling emphasis to the future pounding of vicious black boots on Berlin pavements.  Plus director Lane and choreographer Roddy have the chorus shoes adding their own ferocious beat.

In these 50 and more years John Kander and Fred Ebb have become legends themselves, brilliantly exploring other darkness in such memorables as Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman and their final collaboration The Scottsboro Boys.  More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kander_and_Ebb#Musicals

This Cabaret has life, old chum.

Cabaret plays through April 19 at Creighton University’s Lied Education Center for the Arts, 2500 California Plaza. Fri. Sat: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Thurs. April 16: 7:30 p.m. Tickets $5-$18. https://www.creighton.edu/ccas/fineandperformingarts/theatre/


Category: Art, Literary
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