By Margie Royal
By June, many area theatres have either wrapped up their season or are about to end a season and break for the summer. That’s not the case with Spotlight Theatre, which opened an engaging production of Kander and Ebb’s powerful and thought-provoking musical, “Cabaret” on June 9. Directed by Emily Fishman, the show will run through June 24 in the theatre’s Swarthmore home at 129 Park Avenune.
“Cabaret”, like many musicals today, uses song and storytelling to explore darker aspects of the human experience. The show is set in post WWI Berlin, during an economic depression which helped propel the Nazi Party to power. American Clifford Bradshaw (Jaried Kimberly) travels by train to Berlin hoping to find inspiration for his next novel. He makes a friend on the train, Ernest Ludwig (John Casertano), who advises him to take a room at Fraulein Schneider’s (Gwen Armstrong-Barker) boarding house. In the rooming house are Fraulein Kost (Mary Elizabeth Quirk) and Herr Schultz (Len Hedges-Goettl). On his first night in Berlin, Cliff visits the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy nightclub run by a mocking Emcee (Greg Hedler) who likes to shock his audience with songs and dance that go against the accepted morals of the time. Cliff meets cabaret star Sally Bowles (Emily-Grace Murray) and the two begin a passionate relationship.
This is a really complex show to stage, and I commend director Emily Fishman for undertaking it, and for her smart casting, direction and choreography. The cast is solid and the show, although it clocks in with a longer running time than most of today’s audience’s like, never sags. The well-performed scenes and songs, hold the audience’s interest through to the show’s powerful and chilling end.
“Cabaret” has a lot of relevance and is a good reminder that believing that there is nothing you can do, or that believing everything will be okay if you just ignore what is happening around you, never works out in the long run.
The Emcee begins the show, welcoming the Spotlight audience as if they are in Berlin’s Kit Kat Club. He takes obvious delight in lampooning conventions and prudery. In the second act, he even mocks Nazi ideology, which ultimately dooms him. Greg Hedler nicely brings to life the Emcee;s clever naughtiness and sexuality.
As Kit Kat star Sally Bowles, Emily-Grace Murray does an excellent job portraying Sally’s contradictory nature. Sally likes the excitement of performing and living a bohemian lifestyle. And yet, as Ms. Murray makes clear, part of Sally longs for the stability of a loving, long-term, conventional relationship.
Jaried Kimberly as writer Cliff Bradshaw is very believable as a struggling writer with a highly-principled nature who falls for Sally.
John Casertamo is terrific as Ernest Ludwig, creating a friendly, amiable man whose politics, ambition, and beliefs make him monstrous.
Gwen Armstrong Barker shines as Fraulein Schneider, turning in a very believable portrayal of a sensible, likeable and reasonable woman who spent her whole life making careful, practical choices. In the end, as nicely staged by Director Fishman, Fraulein Schneider’s decision to play it safe won’t save her from a horrific end.
Len Hedges-Goettl is adorable as Herr Schultz; he makes Herr Schultz sweet, kind, shy and funny, and sadly, fatally naive.
Mary Elizabeth Quirk as Fraulein Kost provides a lot of the show’s humor with her revolving door of sailors.
The ensemble features Sean McDermott, Liz Baldwin, Gabrielle Impriano, Lisa McBrearty, Talia Kassie, Katherine Phillips, Andrew Dean Laino, Danny Walsh and Randino Del Rosario.
Patrick D’Amato is the Music Director and plays keyboards and conducts the 9-member pit band, which is seated at the right side of the audience area. Although it was wonderful to hear live music performed, on opening night the band at times overpowered the singers. By the time you read this, they will have likely corrected the problem. But, to be safe, arrive early and claim a seat on the left side of the theatre.
Becky Wright’s costumes and Ryan Stone’s lighting design adds greatly to this production. The costuming nicely evoked the era and I loved the creative use of black light to create vivid, off-kilter colors.
“Cabaret” is a fine finish to Spotlight Theatre’s refreshingly bold and unpredictable 2016-2017 season. Go see this show, and purchase a subscription for next year.
Remaining performances are June 16, 17, 23 and 24 at 8 and June 18 at 2. Tickets are $20 evenings and $15 on matinees.
Spotlight Theatre 129 Park Ave Swarthmore, PA 19081Al