College of Charleston’s Department of Theatre last weekend brought the 1966 Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret to the stage at the Emmett Robinson Theatre for a sold-out run. The musical, which had highly successful Broadway revivals in both 1987 and 1998, features the whirlwind environment of 1931 Berlin’s decadent nightclub atmosphere on the cusp of Nazi rule.
Music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb provide such memorable songs as the catchy “Wilkommen” and “Don’t Tell Mama,” to the lovely “Married” and darkly intense “Cabaret.” The themes are as pertinent today as they were then: corruption and prejudice thinly veiled under grotesque decadence and denial.
Alaina Corley Lagroon has a punchy singing voice and great energy as the flippant Sally Bowles, the club singer interested only in pursuing luxury. Brian Smith as Cliff Bradshaw, the American novelist in search of an inspirational city, who falls in love with Sally, takes the character’s naiveté a little too far, never emerging from his wide-eyed expression. Also, Smith’s singing voice is a bit off at times, and his stage crying could use some serious work. But he’s likable onstage, and his projection and diction are exemplary.
E.S. Anderson as the creepily funny Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub guides the audience through the frightening development of the Third Reich’s rise to power via darkly comic numbers. His stage presence and confidence create a masterful and stylish reign over the marvelous Kit Kat chorus.
Robbie Thomas is charming as Herr Schultz, the Jewish fruit-shop owner who becomes a target of the Nazis (here led by the likewise talented Antonio P. Nappo as Ernst Ludwig). As his love interest Fraulein Schneider, Cory Miller possesses a powerful and touching singing voice. Shultz and Schneider’s story is more compelling than that of the young lovers, due in no small part to Thomas and Miller.
Director/choreographer Robert Ivey creates lively staging, and musical director Deanna McBroom has assembled a great orchestra. Set designer Tricia Thelen provides terrific settings, from the tiny train compartment box-set and Fraulein Schneider’s rose-covered living room walls, to the runway at the Kit Kat Klub that thrusts out like a giant phallus.
Ivey’s dance numbers have mirth, silkiness, and complexity. The “Telephone Dance” is exquisite, as is “Two Ladies,” in which the Emcee tangles with his two “roommates.” Cabaret, already laced with a hint of darkness, takes a haunting turn at the end of Act One and Ivey’s choreography takes over as a conveyor of doom.
The production does have its flaws. With iffy singing in some parts, some insufficient costumes, a cheaply done strobe-lit fight scene, and a spotlight that goes all over the place, it’s not professional-level; still, it’s an admirable undertaking, and they’ve done a good job with it. Ivey’s staging is excellent and, for the most part, the cast is full of energy and believability. The powerful, poignant ending alone is worth the ticketprice.