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REVIEW: Roundabout’s Cabaret Packs Roundhouse Kick (Hennepin Theatre Trust)

Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles and the Kit Kat Girls (Gayle Rankin, Kaleigh Cronin, Kristin Olness, Jessica Pariseau, Kelly Paredes, and Stacey Sipowicz).

The Hennepin Theatre Trust opened its 2016-2017 Bank of America Broadway on Hennepin Season on Tuesday (say that three times fast) with a smash production of Cabaret developed by Roundabout Theatre. If you thought this Cabaret would be anything like the Latté Da/Hennepin Theatre Trust co-production from 2014, you’d be wrong. The two are like night and day – one reveled and relished in the glamor, while the other paints a world with rough edges and more than a little a bit of slime. Do you like your cabarets seedy and in-your-face with a bit of vulgarity? This is your Cabaret.

One of the odd things about Cabaret performances is how much many of them have changed because of Liza Minelli’s portrayal of nightclub singer Sally Bowles in the cinematic adaptation. In the movie, what was a small part in the stage musical became one of the central figures; attempts to embrace and use something of Minelli’s starpower performance have been rolled into most Cabaret productions ever since. Less so in this version – she is much more clearly a spectator to the larger events in the waning years of the Weimar Republic. That change is almost incidental compared to the pervasive sense of seediness perched on a powder keg. Will it erupt in a recession, war, or an election? Any of these are possible, but seeing something other than – or perhaps in spite of – the shiny lights is part of the fun.

Cabaret productions turn in no small part on the Emcee, played here by Randy Harrison. Harrison’s portrayal is lascivious and up-front, with more vulgarity in the pantomime and gesture than has recently been the norm. This actually feels quite right for the material – the Kit Kat Klub being more than a bit off-the-wall and rundown makes many little moments in the musical work very well. One is tempted to remember that the Nazi Party campaigned against the edifices of the Weimar Republic on many grounds, including amorality – so having the Kit Kat Klub (please don’t make an acronym out of that) be more than simply titillating is an important part that’s sometimes smoothed out into more burlesque fair. Harrison is engrossing.

The touring cast is quite vocally strong, including Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider and Scott Robertson as Herr Schulz. The musical requirements of these roles are often glossed over simply because the characters are old; Murray’s voice in particular shines in Act II, where her performance beautifully captures the tumult and heartbreak of terrible decisions. As Sally Bowles, Andrea Goss plays the washed-up singer to the hilt, resisting the temptation to glamorize and turn every song into a power number. The result pays off, especially in her final number. Benjamin Eakeley’s earnest but conflicted Cliff is no match for her in this production – not because of the dazzle, but because of all the little conflicts that he subtly conveys throughout the show.

Is this your father’s Cabaret? No – but the ways in which this has more of your grandfather or grandmother’s Cabaret is much about what makes it so engaging.

Cabaret plays at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis through October 22.


Basil Considine