ashland.news
July 21, 2024

Review: Is life a ‘Cabaret,’ old chum?

Julia Funk as Sally Bowles and Zach Virden as Cliff Bradshaw in "Cabaret" at Camelot Theatre. Chelsea Fine Photography
September 24, 2023

Camelot Theatre production deserves full houses — Come hear the music play!

By Geoff Ridden for Ashland.news

It’s well over 50 years since “Cabaret” opened on Broadway, and yet the popularity of the show shows no sign of waning. An English newspaper in September observed that top-price London production “dining seats” currently cost £375 ($465) — and, although that includes a three-course meal and half a bottle of champagne, it’s still close to $1,000 for two people.

In comparison, the tickets at the gem of a production now running at the Camelot Theatre in Talent are an absolute bargain!

It would be wrong, however, to imply that the show written by Joe Masteroff, John Kander and Fred Ebb has remained unchanged for over half a century: it has had several different incarnations, and not just in terms of what songs are included. This Camelot production is based on the 1998 Sam Mendes revival, very different from the 1971 film with Liza Minnelli. It is less reticent about the sexuality of one of the central characters — the American writer Cliff Bradshaw — and it includes startling final scenes at the end of each half, the details of which it would be improper to reveal here.

This show’s director, Rebecca Campbell, is very experienced and highly regarded in the Rogue Valley, so it’s no surprise that this is a faultlessly directed and choreographed production. There is not a weak performance by any of the cast of 16 players, who are more than ably supported by an onstage band of eight musicians, directed by Karl Iverson.

This production is quite flawless in every respect. The costumes, designed by Melanie Marie, are fabulous, and the lighting and video design by Evan Carbone and Oliver Quant complement and enhance the action.

There are two principal locations in this show: the seedy and disreputable Kit Kat Klub, and the house of Fraulein Schneider where Cliff Bradshaw and Sally Bowles live. The transition between locations is seamlessly choreographed with the entire cast involved in moving items between one scene and the next.

This requires a simplicity of set design: the band is on a raised platform at the back of the stage, above an area with opaque panels; all other action takes place downstage, with a couple of musical numbers performed in front of the curtain.

Zaq Wentworh as the Emcee in “Cabaret” at Camelot Theatre. Chelsea Fine Photography

The production also boasts a remarkably talented cast. Julia Funk, as Sally Bowles, can dance and act (with a most authentic English accent). Her voice manages to be strong at the outset while conveying the fragility of her mental state in her final number.

The deets
“Cabaret” plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday nights and at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoons through Oct. 15 at the Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. For tickets ($20-38), go to camelottheatre.org or call 541-535-5250.

The excellent Zach Virden, as Cliff, gets across his character’s naïveté and confusion and with what, as a gay man, he has a great deal to be afraid of. Zaq Wentworth, the sleazy emcee, was clearly born to play this role — and he plays it to the audience with great relish and total commitment.

This revival includes a subplot not included in the film — the doomed romance between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Livia Genise and John Lambie bring this relationship to life in performances which are touching and affecting. They both have great voices.

The show is set at the time when the Nazi party was beginning to gain power in Germany, and the production is successful in representing just how insidiously it asserted its influence. The friends of Ernst Ludwig (the impressive Tyler Jack Ward Lemons) are completely unaware of his political sympathies for much of the first half of the action. He plays on that gullibility by encouraging them not to talk about or think about politics: a favorite ploy of the true politician.

This is a production which deserves to have full houses at all its performances: you may not see a better piece of theater for a very long time.

Geoff Ridden has been based in Ashland for the past 15 years, having previously taught in universities in West Africa, Europe and the USA. In his retirement he has written reviews of books and plays for a number of publications, as well as giving talks in OSF’s Carpenter Noon series. He sings with the choir of the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra, of which he is also a board member. He can be reached at geoff.ridden@gmail.com.

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