Scranton Shakes - Rattles and Rolls - Cabaret
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
Happily, I saw The Scranton Shakespeare’s production of Cabaret at Madam Jenny's at the Bittenbender in downtown Scranton. The venue, an intimate space for fun, food, drink, and music was the perfect setting to experience life in Berlin at the Kit Kat Klub. Based on a 1939 novel by Christopher Isherwood and a 1951 play by John Van Druten, Cabaret features music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and libretto by Joe Masteroff.
Originally produced in 1966, directed by the late great Hal Prince, it has had several reincarnations. It appears that the Scranton Company chose the 1998 version of the musical. It is a darker version. A version informed by life itself and by the growing organism of what theatre can accomplish. Even though the young cast was not equally stellar across the board, their commitment and enthusiasm captured their audience across the boards. There is much to be said for that feat. As the world changes around them, the denizens of the KKK (Kit Kat Klub) keep the reality of what is happening at bay, out of their sanctuary of fun and pleasure, keep it at bay as long as possible, thanks to the Emcee, played deftly by Daniel Holme. Interesting note, seeing Alan Cummings as the Emcee in 1998 (the role made him a star) and then seeing him reprise it in 2014, I was struck how age helped shape the character and the actor. The Emcee has a menacing presence that age would allow Holme to capture. I am sure he will do the role again in the future. Make no mistake, Daniel Holme has the potential to be a powerhouse actor in a few years.
As written, Sally Bowles is a slight talent in a second rate club. It becomes a difficult task for an actor portraying her to capture that element and maintain a zest for life. As Sally, Natasha Nightingale has a stage persona that can be magnetic at times. Not the strongest singer – but with an enthusiasm that allows Sally to keep living to the next day, the next meal. Sally’s scenes with Cliff (Guiseppe Mele) were difficult for me to see from where I was sitting. So, I listened intently. It became clear there was far too much acting going on in these intimate scenes and not enough listening to each other and reacting. Again, I believe this to be the case because of the age of the actors.
A real surprise and delight was Olivia Rose Barresi, as Frauline Schneider. Even though she is too young for the role, she went deep. She bared her soul and the conflict within. She told her truth. She was captivating with her honesty. Paired with Colin Holmes as Schultz, who did the job of communicating his need, his want, honestly, even from the vantage point of my terrible seat, the tragedy of loneliness and fear was palpable.
The congenial and then chilling character of Ernst, fully realized by Luke Anthony Neville, reminded me far too much of too many people walking about in 2019. He scared me. Mr. Neville’s technique is very strong, indeed. I believed his every beat. He made me want to go out and picket more – much more. I wanted to run out to call out fascism immediately.
The production was tremendously enhanced by the entire design team and bless them, since this is free theatre they undoubtedly did it on a shoestring budget. They physically created the world of the play as envisioned by director Simone Daniel. No small feat, folks.
The lively, fun, provocative, choreography by Chloe Lafleur created the bawdy 1931 Berlin second rate club scene. Sexy is good! Playful is good! Technique combined with talent is even better!
Director Simone Daniel is to be congratulated for allowing the story to unfold in a truthful, fun way. Her energy and passion trumpeted out loud and clear for the material. No “mamby pamby” through-line – she pursued the arc of the play clearly. Her use of architecture and space was effective in a difficult platform. I suppose using varied space to designate different scenes, not just choreography, would have provided clearer sight-lines for patrons. Thus there was a watering down effect of the potent scenes as the tide changes because much of the audience was cut off from the action. With a longer run, I am sure that would have been rectified.
Shall we talk about the band and the musical director, Stephen Murphy? Oh yes, we must. Stephen Murphy – take a bow. The band was splendid, you sir are some pianist and musical director. The band was perfectly melded with cast and crew – not a separate entity at all. They were members of that glorious hovel – the Kit Kat Klub! I do understand that the band changed but the night I saw it hats off to Drums - Tyler Dempsey, Bass - Joe Michaels, Trumpet - Jesse Morvan (sub Sean Mason), Clarinet - Julia Pasko And then doing double duty Charlie Rodriguez – trombone/Herman and Bettina Schwabbe – violin/Frauline Kost.
I have said before that this company is non-equity. The reason I mention it is two-fold: first – non-equity usually means younger casts. More seasoned professional actors are union. Second – it would be virtually impossible to have a season such as the 2019 season if it were produced under union contracts. Therefore, I wholeheartedly embrace non-equity professional theatre.
One production note, for the sake of the cast, crew and audience, a simple sheet listing all the credits for each performance is desperately needed. So finally, Brava to Scranton Shakes for the gift of free theatre to our community. Thank you for the broad spectrum of plays presented.