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Review: Arvada’s ‘Cabaret’ Polished But Relatively Tame

Cabaret, Arvada Center, He Said She Said Theatre Theater DenverCabaret is considered by some one of the great  masterpieces of musical theatre. With widely recognized songs such as, “Willkommen,” “Don’t Tell Mama,” and of course, “Cabaret,” this show also provides provocative social and political commentary about Berlin in the 1930s. The plot tells the story of Sally Bowles, a British cabaret performer, and Cliff Bradshaw, an American novelist. Sally, Cliff, and their associates slowly realize that they can no longer ignore the politics of the age and drown their sorrows in gin and tawdry entertainment.

Cabaret Balances Dazzle and Depth

HE SAID: This show has wonderful music and some great choreography, but more importantly it is a brilliantly crafted piece of theatre. From the “twist” at the end of Act 1 to the final lyrics in the song “If You Could See Her” to the last moments of the show taken from the ’98 revival, there are numerous moments where the piece takes your perceptions and punches them in the face, making you question and re-think how you feel about a character given new information, and simultaneously making  you look at yourself and consider what your reactions say about you.

Cabaret, Arvada Center, Denver, Theatre, Theater, reviewsSHE SAID: Cabaret is definitely special in that it’s a musical that manages to be a full-fledged musical and a full-fledged social commentary all at once, and I suspect that different audience members find themselves being entertained and uncomfortable at different times. I found myself asking which character best represents my actions and attitudes if I had been in Berlin in the 1930’s. The Arvada Center is well-equipped to handle the production elements that make the show a gem of musical theatre, and they handled the social commentary very thoughtfully as well.

Arvada Center’s Hybrid Version Pulls Some Punches

HE SAID: Licensing for the show is only available for the original and ’87 revival versions, meaning songs (from the movie) used in the ’98 version, like “Mein Herr” or the fantastic “Maybe This Time”, are unfortunately not included. However, many of the directorial choices seemed to be inspired by the ’98 revival – including the final moments of the show. Perhaps one of the biggest changes in the latest adaptation was the increased sexual tone of the piece. The Emcee, for example, became almost hyper-sexual when Alan Cumming stepped in during the ’98 production as did the staging of many songs like “Two Ladies”. While still sexual, the Arvada Center certainly has a tamer presentation which almost harkens back to an older feel of the show. This hybrid of versions is certainly still entertaining, but if you are very familiar with one version or another you might be left longing in certain areas.

Cabaret, Arvada Center, Denver, Theatre, Theater, ReviewSHE SAID: I’m not as familiar with the show, so I actually didn’t notice the hybrid of versions, likely because the story flowed quite well. The creative team made some interesting choices throughout that might have made some the moments of commentary just a little less powerful than they could have been. For example, the transition from the kick line number into the Nazi march at the beginning of the second act was very abrupt, so instead of the moment sneaking up on you and making you realize you’re enjoying a goose-step, it just instantly became one. By contrast, the ending of the show seemed a bit drawn out and, while still powerful (especially if you’ve never seen the show), might have been better served by a sudden reveal. This is likely just a matter of preference about what transitions in the show should be sneaky and subtle and which ones should be sudden and surprising.

Actors Find New Moments in Classic

HE SAID: The most surprising performance for me was Brett Aune as Cliff. To be honest, I have always found this character rather boring – so much so that I have wondered why he stands as the central character. Aune brought so much life and made his arch throughout the story so complex, I finally became invested in his story and cared what happened to him. As the Emcee, Leo Ash Evans grew on me as the show went on, and his singing, dancing and acting talents were very well showcased, as well as a seemingly endless pool of energy.

Cabaret, Sally Bowles, Arvada Center, Denver, Theatre, Theater, ReviewsSHE SAID: My favorite performance of the evening came from one of the supporting roles — Wayne Kennedy as Herr Schultz. He was endlessly endearing in a subtle, believable way. Billie McBride, as his love interest Fräulein Schneider, was such a good actor that as the show went on I barely noticed that she spoke more than she sung her songs. And in one of the most recognizable roles in musical theatre, Kendal Hartse as Sally Bowles had the right kind of luminosity and showed off an incredible singing voice. I also really appreciated her contained version of “Cabaret” — she really played the attempt to believe that everything was fine rather than over-doing the psychological breakdown, and that really worked for me.

Arvada Center Delivers Conversation-Provoking Cabaret

THEY SAID: The Arvada Center never fails to deliver top-notch productions, and Cabaret is no exception. What is an exception is that Cabaret offers more depth and import than most musicals. With all of the incredible talent, impeccable design elements, and excellent raw material, this is likely to be one of the best performances in the greater Denver area this spring. While we would have liked a bolder presentation in certain moments throughout the show, ultimately it was both entertaining and thought-provoking, and if you come with a friend, it’ll be conversation-provoking.

For a full plot synopsis and history of Cabaret, see the wikipedia article. Cabaret presented by The Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities plays through April 17. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.

Cabaret, Arvada Center, Denver, Theatre, Theater, Reviews

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