There is a lot to like in the Tomo Suru Players’ production of Cabaret, not the least of which is in the choice of venue.
In this production of Kander and Webb’s classic musical, director Gerald Williams has moved out of the traditional theatre and into the West End’s Club XY. Given the production’s very sexy vibe, it is an inspired choice to turn a club situated in the heart of Vancouver’s gay village into the Kit Kat Klub of 1931 Berlin.
Those familiar with Bob Fosse’s 1972 film adaptation starring Liza Minelli, Michael York, and Joel Grey will first be struck by the sexual edginess in this production, far beyond what was acceptable for a mainstream film of that time. Bare skin, lacy undergarments (on both the men and women), leather, and countless garters are the costumes of choice from designer Beverly Cheung.
Not only gorgeous to look at though, it remains a fitting reminder of the time period, where the final remnants of the Weimar culture were being dismantled by the burgeoning Nazi regime.
There are other changes from the film adaptation in what appears to be a mix of the 1993 London and 1998 Broadway stage revivals. This includes an overtly sexual “Two Ladies”. Now featuring the Emcee with both a boy and a girl, instead of the traditional two female cabaret girls; it is simultaneously appropriately decadent for the time, and contemporary.
Making for a wonderfully satisfying contrast to the rise of the Nazis, this Cabaret also takes on somewhat of a modern sensibility including hints of more recent politics. One can’t help but think of Stonewall drag queens, the sexual liberation of the sixties, the fight with the Christian right, and the more recent boldness of the neo-Nazis. It reinforces Cabaret‘s timeless quality.
Director Williams isn’t afraid to make his own bold political statement as 12 year-old Jian Ross sings the ironic “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”. Ross, who is nowhere close to approximating an Aryan youth, knocks it out-of-the-park.
Beyond the visual and political, there are also some fine performances in this production, of which, thankfully, none of the cast attempts any impersonation.
Leading the way is Gil Yaron as The Emcee. In partial white face, Yaron is suitably bold with just the perfect hint of resigned experience. Commanding the stage each time he appears, he is what provides many of this production’s riches.
As Sally Bowles, Sarah Seekamp misses the mark somewhat on her character’s vulnerability and uncertainty, but her raw voice is suited to her take on a role made famous by Minelli. Like Yaron, Seekamp felt a little shouty in some of the bigger numbers.
Surprisingly, it is Maxwell Smith as Cliff who does the least amount of singing, but has one of the best voices in this production. He is given few opportunities to sing, but when he does it is glorious. Smith is called upon more for his acting skills here, and while at times he did feel somewhat hesitant, he make for a believable foil to Seekamp’s Sally.
Another surprise comes from Charlie Deagnon as Herr Shultz. With his beautiful baritone voice, it is tough not to feel his pain from Frau Schneider’s rejection. As Schultz’ would-be bride, Jacqollyne Keath may not have the best voice of the night, but she gives the hard-nosed landlord a softer edge where needed, making her choice towards the end that much more devastating.
Rounding out the cast is John Ennis Graham who does a nice job as the smarmy Nazi Ernst, and Stefanie Stanley is delightful as the resident hooker, Fraulien Kost. Thankfully, Kost gets a chance to show off her singing skills in a reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”.
Accents were a problem for many in the cast. As they came and went it begged the question: could we have suspended belief just a bit more to have done without them?
And of course, no Kit Kat Klub would be complete without its dancers. Madison Simms, Krista Aggerholm, Max Hall, Sarah Moir, Terran Milne, and Vince Kanasoot all bring a deliciousness to their roles, especially when performing Lyndsey Britten’s provocative choreography. And while the entire cast is called upon to interact with the audience at some point, it is this sextet who must do the heavy lifting here, with great results.
The “beautiful orchestra” tucked around the corner from the action is indeed beautiful, making a surprise appearance during the entr’acte rather than the more traditional “Willkommen”.
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Cabaret, and it is surprising how it continues to be reinvented and made relevant for audiences today. With ticket prices topping out at fifty bucks though, there are also high expectations. But even while the singing isn’t perfect, thanks to an inspired location and a vibrant sexuality, there is still a lot to like in this production.
Cabaret with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff. Based on John Van Druten’s play, I Am a Camera and Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Goodbye to Berlin. Directed by Gerald Williams. A Tomo Suru Players production. On stage at Club XY (1216 Bute St, Vancouver) until October 22. Visit http://tomosuruplayers.com for tickets and information.