By Dan Rankin
When you enter the St. Marys Town Hall Theatre, as you should, sometime in the next week or two to check out the St. Marys Community Players’ fantastic production of the musical Cabaret, some changes will immediately jump out at you. The refinished floor casts a reflective sheen; the stage, which has been extended outwards, has a brand new front on it; and hey, is that a drum set?
Based on the play by John Van Druten, featuring music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff, the St. Marys Community Players’ take on Cabaret features a live orchestra on stage (including drums, piano, trombone, trumpet, saxophone and clarinets) that infuses the song-and-dance filled production with a lively jazz-and-swing pulse. The musicians’ efforts (and those of musical director Karen Rempel) highlight the month’s of work carried out by the rest of the cast to bring the spastic enthusiasm of the Kit Kat Klub, a booze and drug-soaked 1930′s Berlin nightclub, to life. The success with which they do just that can also be attributed to director Terry Todd, who has done sharp work in his first run at a musical, and choreographer Rory Scofield.
Cabaret sees the return of SMCP favourites Landon Hoare as the club’s Emcee (the role for which Joel Grey won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in the 1972 film adaptation), Melissa Metler as Sally Bowles (for which Liza Minnelli won the Oscar for Best Actress in the same film), and Jim Hill as Cliff Bradshaw. Hoare and Metler will be remembered as the romantic leads in the 2014 SMCP production of Leading Ladies, which Hill directed – but this time, it’s Metler affecting a British accent as Bowles, while Hoare takes on the multilingual Emcee’s German accent. Hill also recently portrayed the Russian dance instructor Kolenkhov in You Can’t Take It With You.
The Theatre’s stage has been transformed into the stage and club floor of the Kit Kat, littered not only with performers, but also waiters, drunks, stogie-toting manipulative club owners and highball glasses. It follows that some of the content in Cabaret is not strictly suitable for youths, and would probably earn it a PG-13 rating if you were thinking about seeing it in the cinema. Sex, drugs, racial prejudices, Nazis – definitely not the wholesome screwball comedies and morality plays that SMCP has served up lately. But it’s madness with a message; as Cliff, Sally, Cliff’s landlady Fraulein Schneider (Kristen Keller), her fruit merchant suitor Herr Schulz (Paul Rempel), and Chloe Weir’s unflappable Fraulein Kost deal with life below the poverty line in Berlin, the difficult issues they face each day are torched and satirized by the Greek Chorus that is the Emcee and his Kit Kat Girls and Boys. They all struggle with how little power they have to affect change in society, choosing instead to ignore, run from, or wait out the rising tide of Nazism even as history and fate dig in their fingernails.
You’ll be mesmerized as you’re transported into the heart of 1930s Berlin and its blend of cultures, languages, and lifestyles – before a sense of impending dread descends on you as you realize not everyone in this world likes things that way. But even if you walk away a little bummed out at the memory of everything that followed 1930s Berlin, I guarantee you’ll have a few of Cabaret’s Tony Award-winning musical numbers stuck in your head.