Once a play is produced, it tends to be stuck in time, the script locking it into the time and place it was made. Cabaret is different. Since its original production in 1966, society has changed, attitudes have changed, and the musical has been updated to move along with it, concentrating more on attitudes within the play than the plot or script. Half a century after its Broadway debut, the Bergen County Players have put on a production reflecting these updated sensibilities.
Seeing Cabaret brings to mind a joke that went around a few years back: Bill Gates dies, and, at the Gates of Judgment is told, "You were right in the middle of good and evil; you can choose whether you go to Heaven or Hell."
Gates replies, "Can I take a look, first?"
"Of course", replies the angel at the gate. "Here is heaven!"
Bill Gates sees groups of people, standing around, having discussions. Then he asks, "Can I see Hell?"
And the angel, with a wave of its arm, shows a scene of a beach, with people having all kinds of parties and good times.
"I think I'll go to Hell!" says Gates.
A few weeks later, the angel goes down to Hell to see how Gates is doing. And there is Bill Gates, being burned in fires and impaled by pitchfork wielding demons. "Hell is nothing like what I saw!" complained Gates.
"You don't understand!" replied the angel. "What you saw was the demo version!"
And that is, in a nutshell, what Cabaret is all about. It takes place in Berlin, about 1930 or so, not long before the Nazi party takes power. And the people we see are treating it like one big party, refusing to recognize that hell is just around the corner.
The action is split largely between two venues: A boarding house where the "point of view" character, Cliff Bradshaw, an American bisexual author who has come to Berlin for inspiration and also trying to come to terms with his own sexuality in the more accepting environment (homosexuality still being a crime in much of the world at that time), is residing, and the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy but popular cabaret, where performances occur, often in background, acting as a mocking Greek Chorus counterpoint to the ongoing action as well as to the collapse of their society, oblivious to the fact that they are part of the society they are mocking.
As the audience enters the theater, they see the Kit Kat Klub, partially extending out into the seats, with various performers fosse-ing on the stage, preparing them for what's ahead. The play starts abruptly, and moves quickly.
The plot is simple enough. The aforementioned Cliff Bradshaw comes to Berlin, finds a room at a boarding house, and, on the recommendation of a man he befriended on the way there, attends the Kit Kat Klub, where he meets the young entertainer Sally Bowles, who is more of a force of nature than a skilled performer. She easily worms her way into his life, and they live together for a few months, until the reality of the changes in Germany force them to make uncomfortable decisions.
The performances are outstanding, even by the high standards normally achieved by the Bergen County Players. Jimmy Vinetti as the omnisexual Emcee (reprising the role he played at the Bergen County Players 40 years ago) is able to let go entirely, and push the character over the edge from lovably seductive to slimy, even into the realm of disturbing, showing the Satanic nature of the character, who seems to have forgotten that even though he is ruling, he is still in Hell. Messalina Morley plays a believable Sally Bowles, who has to choose between the illusions she has created and the reality that rears its ugly head, and is not quite sure she has made the right choice. Stavros Adamides, as Clifford Bradshaw, exhibits the character's growing maturity, as he discovers his own sexuality as well as realizing that some favors come with too high a price.
In supporting roles, notable performances include both Brian Feldman as Herr Schultz, a Jewish storekeeper unable to believe that Germany could turn against him, and Robin Peck as Fraulein Schneider, the boarding house landlady who just wants some security and some love, only to find that the two might be mutually exclusive, both stand out, as well.
Director Alan Demovsky and Producer Michele Roth have chosen to present a version of Cabaret that shows some of the cracks beneath the surface; this is demonstrated through the technical details, with the non-Kit-Kat-Klub scenes being done with minimal décor and a projector used to create backdrops. Musical director Steve Bell with an on-stage band does his usual excellent job. The costuming, done by Bunny Mateosian, Roth Morley and James Dolan, contrasts the everyday clothing with the worn-looking costumes worn by the dancers in the Kit Kat Klub.
Certainly, with the political climate of today, with accusations of Naziism being thrown around by both major parties, parallels can be drawn to pre-Nazi Germany. Cabaret reserves judgment, but is an important cautionary tale, and very appropriate for our time. The Bergen County Players have produced another success.
TICKET AND SCHEDULE INFORMATION
- All performances take place at The Little Firehouse Theatre at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, home to the Bergen County Players since 1949. Performance times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm.
- Tickets for Cabaret are $24 for all performances, and can be purchased online at www.bcplayers.org, by calling 201-261-4200 or by visiting the box office at 298 Kinderkamack Road in Oradell during regular box office hours. Visa, Master Card, and American Express are accepted.
- Those interested in Group Sales or benefit theater parties can call (201) 261-4200 (mailbox #6).
- Discount tickets for students age 25 and under with proper ID are available for $14 by phone or walk-up only, not online.
- As it has for the past few seasons, BCP will continue to offer a “Questions & Artists” (Q&A) discussion following select performances. Cabaret Q&A will kick off immediately following the September 16, 2016 performance. Admission is included in the cost of the ticket.
- Parking is free for our patrons at the Park Avenue municipal lot, across the street, one-half block north of the theater, as well as street parking on Kinderkamack Road and various side streets, all within easy walking distance.
Further information can be found at www.bcplayers.org.