Blank Canvas Theatre’s ‘Cabaret’ is a tight performance well worth attending
The band grinds into a smoke filled vampy beat as the Emcee (Devon Turchan) draws you into the escape that is The Kit Kat Club, “In here, life is beautiful...the girls are beautiful...even the orchestra is beautiful.” Thus begins a journey into pre-World War II Germany where social convention has taken a holiday. Whatever your secret vice or desire chances are you will find it here or meet someone who can show you where to find it.
It is 1931 and Clifford Bradshaw (Noah Hrbek) is an American novelist who has traveled to Berlin via America, England and France in hopes of gathering material for a new book. By chance he meets Ernst Ludwig (Stuart Hoffman), a mysterious German stranger on the train who heads a smuggling ring that is financing the fledgling NAZI party.
As the police searches Ludwig’s attaché case, Ernst slides a suitcase full of contraband over to Clifford’s side of the carriage. In appreciation for Clifford’s help Ludwig promises to assist the young writer in finding an inexpensive place to board and introduces him to the Kit Kat Club, a small smoky subterranean dive bar.
It is there that Clifford meets Sally Bowles (Sandra Emerick), an English singer who is the headline act at the club. When Sally gets fired from the bar by the jealous owner for having too many romantic involvements she ends up in Clifford’s room. The room is in a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Anne McEvoy) who caters to an eclectic mix of clientele. Schneider is being wooed by Herr Schultz who is a fruit vendor and plies his sweetheart with all manner of hard to get delectables. Although German, Schultz is also Jewish. Clifford is himself bisexual having had a fling with one of the Kit Kat boys who worked a club in England.
Life goes on at the Kit Kat Club as the girls and boys mount various songs and skits designed for their shock value. The dark shadow of Nazi-ism slowly creeps into the acts as mention of “the Jewish problem” is alluded to and some of the numbers take on a more militaristic vibe.
Cabaret is a perfect fit for Blank Canvas’s postage stamp sized stage. With the fog machine and close quarters you really feel the claustrophobic atmosphere common to all dives. With scant use of props the stage is set for a train compartment, Clifford’s room, Herr Schultz’s Fruit store and the club itself.
The show features book by joe Masteroff, lyrics by John Kander and music by Fred Ebb and is based on the John Van Druten 1951 play "I am a camera" as well as stories by Christopher Isherwood.
As for the cast they are fantastic (not to mention “beautiful”). Even the actors who brave a German accent do so with aplomb and without it sounding fake. Of special note was the performance by Anne McEvoy and John J. Polk playing Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz respectively. Their tender love scenes were the much needed counterpoint to the looming madness that would soon overtake Germany. Kudos also to Sandra Emerick as Sally Bowles who gives a world wearied take on the role rather than the sunshiny preppy slant that so many other theaters enjoy foisting on the public. It was a far truer look that had the air of authenticity.
The costume design by Luke Scattergood is naughty without going too far. The Sound Design by Merrill Edleman could have been boosted just a little when the solo singers performed but otherwise was satisfactory. The lighting by Patrick Ciamacco (who also Directed) was spot on.
The cast consists of Devon Turchan (Emcee), Sandra Emerick (Sally Bowles), Noah Hrbek (Clifford Bradshaw), Stuart Hoffman (Ernst Ludwig), Anne McEvoy (Fraulein Schneider), Casey Venema (Fraulein Kost) and John J. Polk (Herr Schultz). The Kit Kat Girls are Anna Parchem (Rosie), Alicia Diamond (Lulu), Hannah Woodside (Frenchie), Angie Bendahan (Texas), Casey Venema (Fritzie) and Emma Beekman (Helga). The Kit Kat Boys are David Turner (Bobby), Michael Knobloch (Victor), Mark Vandevender (Hans) and Timothy Richard Parks (Herman).
There are many notable spots in the show that include the opening “Willkommen”, “Two Ladies”, “Money” and “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Of special note is the eleven piece band made up of Anthony Trifiletti (Keyboard I/Conductor), Rachel Woods (Keyboard II), Jesse Hobbson (Guitar), Jason Stebleton (Bass), Pat Boland (Drums), Aaron Phillips or Claudia Cangemi (12-9 and 12-12) (Trombone), Matt Wirfel (Trumpet), Christina Cruder (Reeds), Hannah Benjamin(Cello) and Ryan Detwiler (Violin). The band is sequestered in the back of the stage behind chicken wire which lends to the close quarter theme. It also allows them to be heard.
Tired of the strain of the holidays with all of its rushing around? Take a much needed break at The Kit Kat Club where you can unwind and “forget about life for awhile.” This cautionary tale about life in 1930s Germany during the rise of fascism is at once entertaining and enlightening. Right this way, your table’s waiting.
“Cabaret” will be on stage at Blank Canvas Theatre, located at 1305 W. 78th Street, Suite 211, Cleveland, Ohio through December 18, 2021. For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/ or call (440) 941-0458. Tickets are going fast (the Friday, December 17th show is already sold out) so order now.
For information on Blank Canvas’s current Covid protocol go to http://www.blankcanvastheatre.com/cabaret/