“Cabaret:” An Entertaining and Timely Return to Musical Theater

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Elijah Root-Sanchez
Staff Writer

UCSB Theater and Dance is currently putting on their rendition of the critically acclaimed musical Cabaret. They are having showings of this must-see production until June 3 in the Performing Arts Theater.

Cabaret follows Cliff, a young American writer trying to find inspiration in Berlin for his novel. Cliff finds himself in the Kit Kat Klub, a place where people bend the rules on gender and sexuality. There he meets Sally Bowles, a talented Cabaret performer. The show is managed by an over-the-top Masters of Ceremony called “the Emcee,” an extremely eccentric narrator to the show.

The show is energetic, funny, and purely sexual as it takes place in a club. Unfortunately, however, the fun cannot last forever. Many of the characters are ignorant of the emerging political climate, blind to the many signs of an emerging Nazi Party.

By the act one finale, it is clear that the Nazis have arrived and are a force to be reckoned with. The act ends with a song filled with bigoted rhetoric, swastika armbands, and Nazi salutes. From this point on in the show, the mood drastically changes, reflecting the cruel existence of Nazi Germany. The show has a strong message against hesitation, reminding audiences of the consequences of allowing hatred and bigotry to develop on a mass scale.

The UCSB Theater Department has stellar actors, and Cabaret was no exception. The leads of the show were Kody Siemensma as the Emcee, Cordelia Watson as Sally Bowles, and Cooper Bruhns as Cliff Bradshaw. Each of these actors provided phenomenal performances, perfectly encapsulating both the excitement of Berlin’s nightlife and the fear of the rising Nazi Party.

Cabaret’s music is mostly up-tempo and very sensual, containing lots of moans and screeches written into the music itself. Highlight performances included Jeremy Scharf as Herr Schultz, Kerry Jacinto as Fraulein Schneider, and Olivia Nathan as Fraulein Kost. Scharf and Jacinto shared bitter-sweet harmonies in the song “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” a romantic and comedic duet centered around the gift of a pineapple.

Olivia Nathan’s vocals were also impressive in the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” This is the turning point of the show, transitioning from fun and upbeat to a cold, sullen Nazi Germany.

Christina McCarthy’s fun and erotic choreography exceeded expectations. The dancers were on the floor in revealing clothing, spreading their legs or bending over with their backs toward the audience. Another highlight of the dancing was the aerial work done from the trapeze swings.

When the tone of the show flipped, so did the choreography. It went from sensual and free to rigid and exact. Everyone moved in a synchronized line — enacting Nazi salutes and kicklines — reflecting a totalitarian Nazi Germany.

The way Greg Mitchell, the set designer, arranged the set was very intimate. The stage itself poked out into the audience. Sometimes cast members would travel through the audience, and often the ensemble would talk to the audience members. The blurred line between where the audience ended and the story began created a very personal setting that made the audience feel part of the story.

The sound design of the show was interesting because the producers decided to hang microphones from the grid above, strategically placing actors below the grid to pick up their dialogue or singing. However, there were still occasions when I could not hear what the actors were saying. Sound design is difficult to perfect for a musical theater production, but as UCSB Theater and Dance does more musicals, it will likely improve.

Unfortunately, the Theater and Dance Department is very inexperienced in putting on musicals. In fact, it has been so long since they have put on a musical that nobody in the Theater and Dance Department or in Davidson Library could give the exact date of their last musical.

However, a pleasantly surprising part of the show was the lighting design. Designed by Andrew Schmedake, the lighting perfectly reflected the tone of the show. Whether it was through bright pinks to highlight the erotic nature of the scene or through deep reds to emphasize the intensity of Nazi Germany, Schmedake perfectly captured the feeling of every situation.

The show is fun and entertaining, but it also has a very important message: People must not hesitate to act when facing injustice. Thus, UCSB’s Cabaret is a show for everyone, not only theater-lovers. It is so successful that it would be a shame if it were the last UCSB Theater and Dance musical for another long time.