Review: Cabaret (Lower Ossington Theatre)

cabaret

Cabaret springs to life with unbridled sexuality and high-heeled high kicks at Toronto’s Lower Ossington Theatre

Cabaret (playing the Lower Ossington Theatre) is set in and around Berlin’s decadent Kit Kat Klub, a late Weimar music hall. The drinks are cheap, the air is thick with cigarette smoke, and the girls–and boys–are very, very happy to make your acquaintance. Under the watchful eye of the Emcee (Adam Norrad), a young American writer (David Light, as Cliff) is inducted into Berlin’s low society. Guided by the eager hands of new friend Ernst Ludwig (William Doyle) and the lingering fingers of the charismatic Sally Bowles (Kylie McMahon), he is quickly at home in his new city: a cheap apartment, a dangerous girlfriend, and all the friends, food, lovers and gin he can stomach.

But we all know how the Weimar era ended, don’t we.

This story cannot possibly have a happy ending.

And all that’s left is to sit back, clutch our pearls, and watch the historical train wreck unfold.

Director Jeremy Hutton has wisely chosen to take the lessons of the musical–in particular, that horrible things often come in pretty packaging–and strew them throughout the piece. The first half may feel light and trivial by comparison with the horrors to come, but this is, in retrospect, the point: an artistic decision–and a sound one–rather than an oversight.

Playing the club’s headliner, Kylie McMahon is a real treasure: aside from her considerable talents as a character performer (her “Cabaret” stopped the show), her knack for winning the audience over to her own side is most impressive. She feels like a creature who has stumbled out of another piece entirely–which, in this show of composites and mismatched parts haphazardly fused into wholes, is a considerable trick. Anyone who can play drunk on stairs in three-inch heels is doing something right, and McMahon more than deserved the standing ovation she received.

And speaking of three-inch heels, choreographer Erin Brookhouse has her company execute not only flips and splits and all manner of acrobatics, but three separate head-height kicklines in period footwear. Considering how little floorspace she’s been given to work with (Michael Galloro’s set is breathtaking, but the split levels and awkward shapes do a choreographer absolutely no favours), that she’s squeezed in ten dancers and six principals is quite a feat–but most impressive of all is the transition evident in the dancing. To describe it at length would spoil the surprise; suffice it to say that the dancing, especially towards the end, is a highlight of the show.

However, impressive as the dancing and singing is–and it is!–the emotional core of the evening rests solidly with Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider (Don Berns and Adeen Ashton Fogle, respectively), who elevate their secondary roles to something much richer. I’ll admit to having a soft spot for “It Couldn’t Please Me More”, but when these two sang “Married”, my heart grew three sizes: it’s such a beautiful song, performed so well, by such talented performers. I defy you not to tear up a little.

As I alluded to earlier, the danger with the modern approach to Cabaret is always that it won’t gel: that it will feel too much like separate parts which have been cobbled together, rather than a coherent, cohesive, single story. Hutton doesn’t let that happen. The parts remain disparate and the couples (and couplings) each retain their own character and feeling, but the links between them are so subtle, so thoughtful and so insistent that you can’t help but see not just the relationships between them, but the relevance this story retains in our new gilded age.

To what extent are we, living in 2014, allowing ourselves to be distracted by trivialities? By easy pleasure, by cheap comforts, by taking care of our own and leaving the “politics” to the old men in the grey suits who care about such things?

Are we, too, choosing to idle away in the cabaret as the storm rages around us?

Details

  • Cabaret plays the Lower Ossington Theatre (100A Ossington, between Queen and Dundas) through March 2nd, 2014.
  • Tickets are $59 apiece.
  • Tickets may be purchased online or in-person immediately before a performance.
  • Be advised that performances include use of a water-based fog effect and the smoking of herbal cigarettes.
  • This show involves frank, explicit and downright silly treatments of sexuality.

Photograph of the company by Seanna Kennedy.

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