Life is a Cabaret

Kate Lawler

Master of ceremonies, played by Brian Sills at the Kit Kat Club.
Master of ceremonies, played by Brian Sills at the Kit Kat Club.

The KC Rep’s latest production, “Cabaret,” opened to a packed house on March 25. The musical explores late 1920s, early 1930s Berlin at the height of entertainment culture during the pit of economic strife.

While the setting acts as a character in and of itself, it also revolves around the relationship between an American novelist searching for inspiration and a British import wayward performer, whose free spirit throws the audience for a loop.

Main character novelist Clifford Bradshaw, played by Claybourne Elder, seems unsure of himself but slowly gains understanding throughout the musical.

While struggling with his sexual identity, Bradshaw meets Sally Bowles, a British import bouncing and performing from place to place played by Kara Lindsay. Bradshaw quickly develops a bond with Bowles superseding sexual identity labels and friendship.

Several subplots emerge throughout the first act including another romance between a landlord and her gentleman friend.

Sally Bowles played by Kara Lindsay.
Sally Bowles played by Kara Lindsay.

Fraulein Schneider, played by Hollis Resnik, is a lonely landlady intent on making her own way in Berlin’s struggling economy. Though the strong-willed Schneider seems immune to love, Herr Schultz, played by Gary Neal Johnson makes his way into her heart through exotic gifts of a fruit nature.

Though the musical is peppered with comedic relief, it is the relationship between Schneider and Schultz that were sure to bring laughter during the performance. Their romance is depicted through songs like “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” which sprouted from Schultz’ latest gift, a pineapple.

Lightness takes a sharp turn at the end of the first act when the reality of Germany’s political climate came into play. In bold contrast to the economy, the Berlin entertainment scene was skyrocketing with clubs like the Kit Kat Club, depicted in the musical.

However, when Adolf Hitler came into power, creative and controversial venues like the Kit Kat Club were purged from society and the sorrow that was the World War II Holocaust ensued.

“Cabaret” has a long history in the performing arts community.

Based off the novel of the same name written by Joe Masteroff and adapted from a number of similar productions, “Cabaret” is a staple in the world of musicals.

The songs were written by John Kander, a Kansas City native, and Fred Ebb. Ebb and Kander were the longest running playwrite and songwriting team working together for 50 years. They won numerous Tony, Emmy and Grammy awards and co-wrote hits such as“Chicago,” “New York, New York” and “The Scottsboro Boys.”

Cabaret also made its debut on the silver screen in 1972, starring Liza Minnelli and Bob Fosse. Kander and Ebb wrote new songs for the film, abandoning some of the other songs from the stage production.

The KC Rep brings a unique spin to the successful play incorporating a unique 360 degree, rotating theater-in-the-round stage.

In addition there is alternative seating, giving those who chose, the opportunity to become part of the production, sitting on stage for a different perspective of the performance.

The first act started out with a bang, between the set and strong vocals, especially from Lindsay and Resnik. The audience were captivated. The middle of the first act lagged despite the bright lights and rotating stage but picked up the pace ending in a cliffhanger.

In addition to the musical, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is presenting an exhibition on April 3 at 2 p.m. called “Declaring War on Art: Hitler, the Cabaret and Degenerate Art.” Jan Schall Ph.D. and curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Nelson-Atkins will present “Berlin Cabaret and Life between the Wars” at the Spencer Theatre on April 2 after the 2 p.m. performance.

Cabaret runs through Sunday April 10 at the Spencer Theatre. On stage seating is between $30 and $70 and regular house seats are $10 for students and $20 to $60 for non-students.

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