Company C, the third-year student group at the Canadian College of Performing Arts, presents Cabaret, a sensuous tale of art and love in Germany’s interwar period.
Cabaret is the story of Berlin in 1931, examining its inhabitants both native and expatriate as they grapple with the reality of their lives amid the rise of fascism. It is a dark tale of survival and shattered hopes, peppered with humour and grief alike. During its runs on Broadway, produced originally in 1967 and revived in 1987 and 1998, Cabaret won twelve well-deserved Tony awards. Over the better part of the past century, the story has been presented as a play, a book, a film, and a musical. The musical, with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebbs, and book by Joe Masteroff, was adapted from a 1951 play entitled I am a Camera, which itself was adapted Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin. The tale of the women and men in and around the Kit Kat Klub is well known and much-beloved; Company C picks up the mantle and pulls off a stunning, fresh performance of this iconic musical.
Starring Kristina Roberts as the iconic Emcee, the musical opens with an expertly-choreographed “Wilkommen” to the club. It is an overtly sexual number, and the choreography does not shy away from it. Choreographed by Laura Krewski, this number effectively sets the tone for the rest of the show. Roberts steps into her role with care and enough sleaze to honour the authenticity of the character. She holds the stage with authority and effectively welcomes the audience into the show. The role is written for a tenor voice, but Roberts proves her proficiency in a low register and her aptitude as an actor as she naturally embodies this part.
The cast across the board is strong and dynamic. The ensemble sound filled the performance hall beautifully, and the lead actors bring great depth to their characters. In particular, Keelin O’Hara and Jasmine Toombs, who play Sally Bowles and Fraulein Schneider, ought to be recognized for their performances. They hold their complex characters with a sensitivity that sets them apart. O’Hara’s voice is wonderfully suited to the role of Sally Bowles. The solo performances Bowles presents at the Kit Kat Klub show off not only O’Hara’s immense vocal talent but her acting ability as well. Particularly noteworthy is the titular number in Act 2, “Cabaret,” in which O’Hara gave an enthralling glance into the Sally Bowles’ interiority. Toombs, similarly, brings to the fore Fraulein Schneider’s sense of propriety, her transgressions from her own moral code, and her need to survive.
A particularly topical subject to tackle, director Ron Jenkins has built a grand experience for the audience. The set, separated into three levels of elevation, gives the actors ample space to work and interact with the set and with each other. A bold decision was made with the lighting at the close of the first act that held the audience in chilled silence for a full thirty seconds after the lights came up. We would be remiss not to celebrate the student lighting designers under the mentorship of R.J. Peters for making this daring, evocative choice. A similarly resonant use of the set and the lights the end of the show cut to black and left the audience frozen until the curtain call.
This is not an easy story to take in, but it is a crucial one. Company C treats the characters of Cabaret with a delicacy reserved for those who must face a political atmosphere tilting toward the rise of Hitler’s Nazis and learn to live in it. The characters do not know what will happen in the years following the finale, but Company C does. They therefore ask their audience to sit in the inevitability of history and consider the humanity of the array of people involved, from a Jewish fruit vendor doing his best to live in hope, to a German smuggler who capitalizes on the changing political climate. They leave their audience simultaneously horrified at the reality of 20th century German fascism and wowed by the quality of the performance.
Company C’s performance of Cabaret has four more sold-out shows on February 1, 2, and 3, with evening shows at 7:30 p.m. on all three days and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.