Market Theatre Company’s ‘Cabaret’ is the ‘Musical of the Year’
BY SANDY STAGGS
The Kit Kat Klub is now open for drinks, sizzling entertainment and … delightful debauchery.
In what is hands-down the Musical of the Year (small to mid-size house), The Market Theatre Company in Anderson has transformed its rustic period brick interior at the Anderson Arts Center into a stylish, sexy and tantalizing setting for the Kander and Ebb classic “Cabaret.”
Brimming with provocative bravura performances by Dave LaPage as the Emcee (resurrecting his authentic German accent from his award-winning performance in “I Am My Own Wife”), Meghan Mathis Cole (“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as headliner Sally Bowles, and a troupe of sexy Kit Kat Girls and Boys, “Cabaret” is the summer musical you do not want to miss.
Set on the cusp of the Nazi takeover of Germany, “Cabaret,” with a book by Joe Masteroff, is the quintessential masterpiece of musical theatre that doesn’t just strive to entertain. The story has breadth, depth and heart-wrenching substance.
Michael Lewis, who recently played the progressive voice of reason as Younger Brother in Greenville Little Theatre’s epic “Ragtime,” is American writer Clifford Bradshaw (modeled after the show’s genesis Christopher Isherwood, who arrives in Berlin to write his novel. And within hours he meets the entrancing nightclub performer Miss Sally Bowles from England.
Lewis, with a wholesome demeanor and boyish disposition, epitomizes small town America, though it is revealed that Clifford has bisexual tendencies. Before long, Sally has moved in with him at the boarding where is living and Clifford falls madly in love with his muse.
Paralleling their tryst is a heartfelt romance between the boarding house proprietor Fraulein Schneider and Jewish fruit stand vendor Herr Schultz, played respectively by seasoned actors Rachel Jeffreys and Rob Gentry, reuniting their partnership and spectacular chemistry from the company’s previous production of “Death of a Salesman.” This relationship forms the crux of the serious issues at hand as the Weimar Republic is crumbling and anti-Semitic sentiment begins to foment. And all “Heil” this duo for their fragile and intimate portrayals here, particularly Ms. Jeffreys in “It Couldn’t Please Me More.”
Also seething beneath the surface is the incomparable Matt Groves (also a Kit Kat dancer) as Ernst, who befriends the naïve Clifford and gets him work as an English tutor and courier; and Maggie McNeil in marvelous comic form as Fraulein Kost, another tenant (and prostitute) who constantly breaks the boarding house rules with an endless parade of sailors she passes off as very close family members.
But between the dramatic segments are the majestic and popular musical numbers at the Kit Kat Klub that made this musical so endearing.
LaPage, in a black see-through shirt, black satin shorts and gold metallic ankle boots, radiates a wildly-androgynous sex appeal as the emcee, definitely leaning more Alan Cumming than Joel Grey, who originated the role. And the actor, in his first major singing role, opens full-throttle in “Wilkommen” as he coyly introduces the Kit Kats one by one, with their names and “specialties,” and often a wily spank on the behind or an amorous pose.
Clearly having a ball with this part, he shows his playful side in the silly but cuts-like-switch blade “If You Could See Her” (or “The Gorilla Song”) with his primate partner, choreographer Ashley Bingham, and delectable in a tasteful trio-turned-threesome with a male and female dancer in “Two Ladies.”
And Cole as our carefree star (and blonde and not the customary Liza jet-black) dazzles in every scene and musical number from her glorious “Maybe This Time,” the with-a-wink “Don’t Tell Mama,” and the titular “Cabaret” to the dramatic tension that erupts in the second act as her relationship with Clifford (that began with the sublime duet “Perfectly Marvelous”), disintegrates.
But the constant driving force of “Cabaret” is the Kit Kats who are omnipresent throughout the performance. When they are not seducing the audience in risqué moves on stage with the spot-on pounce of cabaret chairs in “Mein Herr,” they are cavorting and flirting with patrons upon their arrival, or just lending their gaze to the proceedings throughout the club.
The Kit Kat Boys are Grove, Jake Owens, Cole Alan Porter (now that’s a name!), and Thomas Greene. The Girls are McNeil, Bingham, Sarah Greene, Laura Bennett, Lauren Renner, and Eilidh McKinnon.
Bingham, in her first gig as choreographer, makes her outstanding routines another character in the show. Creative and germane to the wild and depraved setting, she will throw in a Fosse homage when you’re least expecting.
And The Pound Cake Man himself Jeff Bennett has a bite-sized part as Klub owner Max. You can get his scrumptious delectables at the concession and I highly recommend the Double Chocolate.
The alluring and revealing costumes were designed by Hazel James Designs and feature loads of slinky fabrics, fitted lingerie and booties for most of the cast. Though I did not love the Emcee’s loose fitting shorts. I know his costume should stand out among the other boys in the troupe, but I still believe tight, very tight, shorts are in order. But the silky slacks he wears in act two were divine. Also, it would have been nice to see Sally in another costume change, as she wears that green dress for several scenes though some time has passed.
Kudos also to Dalton Cole’s set design with naked footlight bulbs lining the foot of the stage (and the Kit Kat Club sign) as well as the beautiful lighting by Maggie McNeil,
Julia West is music director and has finessed outstanding quality from her leads, but the ensemble numbers are equally compelling and precise.
And credit director Christopher Rose for fostering the consistent tone and atmosphere for this remarkable production. From the ambitious casting of boys as Kit Kats to pushing the boundaries of ribald interaction and themes, Rose heightens the play’s happy-go-lucky nighttime allure without ever losing sight of the underlying pot of borscht simmering by day. Yes, governments come and go, but that that façade of hope, civility and humanity collapses in the end.
And oh what a stunning conclusion. That image will stay with you for days and days.
“Cabaret” continues Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through July 29 at The Market Theatre Company, 110 W. Federal Street in Anderson. Tickets are $10 general, but for $50 you get a front row cabaret table for two and bottle of wine right where the action is and table service and conversation with the Kit Kats. Tickets are available at www.themarketanderson.org.