By Marianne Donnelly
"World Changed, Just Like That" Cabaret Soars at Majestic Repertory Theatre
By Marianne Donnelly
Majestic Repertory Theatre, located in the Las Vegas Arts District, opened their third rich season with its totally believable, immersive staging of Cabaret with the audience grouped table side in Berlin's Kit Kat Klub. Playing through August 26th, this is a classic worth absorbing, thoughtfully.
What an extraordinary transformation of physical space since their Animal Farm production. From coconut-soil farm-set to the now red-velveteen papered walls with evocative paintings in a surround-lounge, it evokes numerous key productions of Cabaret.
Cabaret explores the dark, heady, tumultuous life of Berlin’s natives and expatriates living in Germany as they slowly yield to harsh vortices of the Third Reich (Realm) Weimar Republic--a murderous burst of mass madness. Vigorously directed by Troy Heard, this production sends chills through us as we recognize chaos slowly engulfing a broken society clutching to remember any "good-times" at all! The music, written by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff (based on John Van Druten's play "I Am a Camera", which was itself adapted from Christopher Isherwood's "Goodbye to Berlin"), still resonate today.
It is helpful to know Isherwood lived from 1929 to 1933 in Nollendorfplatz, which was the city’s gay community. Even by today’s standards, Berlin’s scene was prodigious and homosexual life was open, fashionable and well organized. Homosexuals became reviled and assassinated along with Jews, Catholics, intellectuals, and physically deformed or mentally challenged people who were not of the Nazi-fabricated "Nordic" ideal. Along with the rise of fascism was a tandem rise in eugenics in practice and unspeakable experimentation.
Most people recall eerie faced Joel Grey’s emcee or "Master of Ceremonies" and wide-eyed Liza Minnelli's "Sally Bowles," under Bob Fosse's direction of the 1972 movie adaption of the 1966 multi Tony award winning Broadway hit. The movie catapulted Cabaret into mainstream consciousness and is produced continuously, globally, in various renditions and revisions.
Majestic's precise production features charming Charlie Starling (the ballerina bubble-dancer from "Absinthe") as "Sally Bowles" and the commanding Anita Bean (Thoroughly Modern Millie) as "The Emcee."
Veteran Vegas stage-stars round out this accomplished cast. Especially touching are "Fraulein Schneider" (Gail Romero) and "Herr Schultz" (E. Wayne Worley) whose love story-within-a-story tells nearly the whole story of the psychological agony of decline of a nation's human values and identity.
The choreography by Kim Amblad uses standard burlesque gestures and steps to fine effect. Movement subtly evolves from gaiety to austerity as the years progress from bouncy-joyous to militantly-regimented "goose-step" thrust-salute, indelibly identified with this horrific era.
Andrew Tyler’s musical direction renders an authentic era-sound from his honky-tonk-tuned keyboard along with well integrated saxophone, clarinet and percussion.
"Sally Bowles" is a multi-story character created by Isherwood, based on Jean Iris Ross Cockburn (a British ex-pat cabaret singer, political activist and writer) that he knew while living in Berlin. (Jean would avoid discussing the Bowles character for the rest of her life.) Isherwood used American writer Paul Bowles' last name as a tribute to this artist who helped shape 20th Century literature and music. (Gore Vidal ranked Bowles' short stories "among the best written by an American...").
Princeton historian Harold James states, “There was a clear link between Germany's severe economic decline and the resulting extremist politics, nationalism and ensuing chaos and horror of the Nazi Era.” In Cabaret, the lack of money (tens of millions were in extreme poverty) is discussed and sung about.
Because of the defeat of Germany in in WW1, along with their collectively bruised national ego, combined with economic punishments of the Treaty of Versailles, a de-facto "suzerainty" would radically and brutally enforce 'one People, one Reich (Realm), one Leader', as the Nazi slogan put it.
This narrow, conceptual "Ideal German" would exclude many millions who were also German by birth and were a vital part of the economy and culture. Enjoyable tolerance yielded to torture-enforced State Policy of who deserved to be "German" (and live).
This production's final second sums up that nation's recent fate. Let's hope it never happens again. Anywhere. As Herr Schultz says, “world changed (snaps fingers), just like that!”
The Majestic Repertory Theatre's upcoming season includes: an adaptation of Shakespeare's dark comedy Measure for Measure set in 1970s Las Vegas; A Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney," by Lucas Hnath; "Spring Awakening," by Steven Sater; "Tight End" by Rachel Bykowski; "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder; "The Legend of Georgia McBride" by Matthew Lopez; "Bigfoot" by Amber Ruffin, Kevin Sciretta and David Schmoll; "Krampus" by Troy Heard.
1217 S. Main Street
$28 General $15 Students.
Ample Street Parking
Suggest pre-show stroll of nearby boutiques, restaurants and especially Martin's Mart Historic tiny Thrift Shop, which for half a century, has supported starving artists of all stripes...many usable goods, 25¢.