‘Cabaret’ at Candlelight Theatre: Modern Look in a Superb Revival Production

Makenzie Newbury makes her Candlelight debut as Sally Bowles, her dream role in her all-time favorite show 

Candlelight Theatre‘s stunning production of Cabaret forces Aisle Say to ponder if he has ever seen a more polished and thoroughly professional production at this venerable Arden barn.

Phenomenal casting across the board, frenetic and imaginative choreography by Dann Dunn, climatic and intense light design by Matthew Kator, great sound by Dennis Mahoney and inventive period costume design by Moira Miller – most notably the Kit Kat Girls & Boys. Aisle Say is delirious over the stockings in the opener “Wilkommen.”

Next, we visit the period props by Amanda Gilles (where oh where did she get Cliff’s typewriter), a spare but effective set by Jeff Reim, a fantastic band situated 10 feet up directed by Chris Tolomeo. And less we forget very realistic wigs (the most authentic worn by Fraulein Kost) by none other than the inimitable and legendary Clayton Stacey.

 

In this 1993 revival, Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (The Lehman Trilogy, The Ferryman) took the original 1972 movie production and completely rethought it.

The most significant change was the character of the Emcee. The role, as played by Joel Grey in prior incarnations, was an asexual, tuxed-up edgy character masquerading in white face with dollops of rouge.

Dann Dunn plays the role of Emcee and is also the show’s choreographer

With Alan Cumming in ’93, the portrayal was more decadent, leering, ghoulish, flamboyant and most decidedly androgynous, all of which is perfectly channeled by Dann Dunn. This Emcee is sometimes sinister and perverse, sometimes playful and charming, but always dynamic, charismatic and… eerily omnipresent. Dunn owns this character. 

Candlelight newcomer Mackenzie Newbury, who plays leading lady Sally Bowles, displays a ‘perfectly marvelous’ English accent which matches her perfectly marvelous voice and dance moves. Fosse dance is a precise, learned experience, and she and the KK Girls & Boys execute the many production numbers exquisitely. Newbury’s portrayal of this insecure, ADHD cabaret singer who only lives for each day and who cannot see the world crumbling around her is absolute perfection. 

 

Aisle Say has seen Cabaret countless times, and the choreography tends to be similar in all productions. With this show, though, Dunn’s original (but Fosse-based) numbers are highly inventive and evocative.

It is a touch of genius to have Kaylan Wetzel and Collin Haber dance and sing “Two Ladies” with the Emcee, further substantiating the androgyny and bi-sexuality of the characters in this tumultuous time.

The “Girls” excel in “Mein Herr” as does Sally’s voice. Her production number with the KK Girls, “Don’t Tell Mama” exudes sexual energy. “Maybe This Time” is not in the original show or movie, but Newbury nails this plaintive and mournful tune. Her “Cabaret” is snarling, growling and show-stopping.

It’s terrific to see Max Redman as Cliff in a substantial role with teeth; one that finally exhibits his considerable acting ability. The chemistry between Sally and him is palpable, and the two are perfectly marvelous in their duet. Through Redman’s eyes, we see Cliff’s torment as he explains to the unsuspecting Sally that her world – in fact, the WORLD – is on the precipice of cataclysmic change.

It was a risk by Director Bob Kelly to stay true to the script and inject Cliff’s bisexuality in the character. Understanding Candlelight’s older demographics and possible aversion to this, Kelly went for it and is rightfully rewarded.

His staging is fast-paced and keeps us all involved in the action. And, timing is everything. The production comes on the 75th anniversary of The Holocaust. I’ll give credit to Kelly on that one!

Sophie Jones‘ character, Fraulein Kost is a way long way from Guinevere, her last starring role at Candlelight. A fabulous singer, Jones presents an unerring German accent and, in fact, sings her portion of “Married” in that language. Kudos to her. (I can see that attribute going on her resume).

 

The most touching and poignant moments come from the interactions of Fraulein Schneider (Donna Dougherty) and Herr Schultz (Ed Emmi). Their duets “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married” are not only sung perfectly but acted wondrously. Their accents are divine. The Fuehrer would have been pleased. Emmi’s line “I am German,” is so very prophetic and yet so naïve, for the audience knows very well the outcome of his fervent -though misbegotten – belief. Dougherty’s “What Would You Do” is magnificent as she pours out her soul in this heart-wrenching cry for understanding.

The Kit Kat Klub serves as a metaphor for political developments in 1929. And we all know what the future holds for Germany. Cabaret, unlike most musicals, does not curtain-drop with a Kumbaya production number. In fact, it concludes with a frightening foreboding; robbing the cast of a deserved Standing Ovation. 

Photos are by Tisa DellaVolpe


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About the Contributor

Greer Firestone

Greer Firestone

Greer Firestone is the founder and director of heartinthegame.org, an active supporter of performance art, and a regular contributor to Broadway World Delaware.