by Lorie Lewis Ham
The musical Cabaret hit the Selma Arts Center stage this past weekend with a bang! The show is visually stunning and emotionally poignant. I had never seen Cabaret before so I went in mostly blind beyond knowing some of the music. After seeing this production, Cabaret is now added to my list of favorite shows.
Cabaret is a 1966 musical with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play I Am a Camera and stories by Christopher Isherwood. It is set in 1931 Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power and focuses on the tantalizing nightlife at the Kit Kat Klub. An American writer named Cliff Bradshaw (Adam Chavez) comes to Germany in hopes of finding inspiration; instead, he finds love with English cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Meg Clark). Their relationship is a roller coaster as Sally is a broken and damaged person who drowns her pain in partying. Cliff rents a room at a German boarding house owned by Fraulein Schneider (Amelia Ryan). A sweet yet heartbreaking subplot of the show involves a romance between her and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz (Juan Luis Guzman), a Jewish fruit vendor. Other key players in the story include another tenant of the boarding house, Fraulein Kost (Casey Ballard) who has a revolving door of men, and Cliff’s first friend in Germany, Ernst Ludwig (Joshua Plowman).
Weaving the story together is the flamboyant and seductive Emcee (Abigail Nolte) at the Kit Kat Klub who presents a window into the world they live in and the changing political climate. The encroachment of the Nazis into the story is very slow and subtle with devastating results—most of which are only hinted at.
I interviewed Meg Clark before the show opened and the amount of work that she told me she put into this role was obvious–she was brilliant. Amelia and Juan as Schneider and Schultz were adorable and added some sweetness and heart to the show—a show mostly made up of very broken characters. Joshua as Ernst charmed the audience at the same time he charmed Cliff, making you love him right up until you hated him. Cliff provided a look at this world from outside of it. Fraulein Kost provided some much needed comedy breaks in this dark story—Casey is always a joy to watch on stage.
Abigail Nolte as the Emcee weaved it all together beautifully-she was amazing! Her voice, her acting, her presence, her costumes, her makeup and wig, everything was wonderful! And her haunting performance of “I Don’t Care Much”, which included sign language, was breathtaking.
Some of the songs, including the opening number “Willkomen”, are seductive and fun, filled with complicated and wonderfully performed choreography. The set is minimal but sufficient, morphing between a train, the club, and the boarding house. The lighting set the mood for the show perfectly, and having a live orchestra was the icing on the cake. The costumes and wigs are great. The singing is lovely. The surprising final moment of the show was jarring and powerful. Every member of the cast and crew deserve kudos for putting together a spectacular show.
Be aware that this show is R rated, but if you miss this show because of that, it would be a shame. The story is dark, moving, and thought provoking, but also includes many moments of just pure fun, and it’s beautiful in a way that is hard to put into words.
Cabaret continues on the Selma Arts Center stage at 1935 High St, Selma, CA, through November 23. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office 559.891.2238. Don’t miss your chance to see this powerful show!
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