Last night Andy and I got to attend the opening night of Cabaret at the Cohoes Music Hall. I think we’ve only been to one other show at that beautiful theater, back when they were putting on a spectacular performance of La Cage Aux Folles, well before its current incarnation on Broadway. The guys at C-R Productions always produce a fine show, on a par with anything treading the boards in the city, and the talent they manage to bring upstate is consistently stellar.
For Cabaret, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Having been a big fan of its last Broadway revival (and the incomparable Alan Cummings), I wondered if they would use that as a prototype, or take out some of the grittier stuff that it favored. Fortunately, most of that grit is intact, and the darker integrity of the show remains. Forget Liza Minnelli and the comparatively glossy movie production – this is the real deal, and the way it was originally intended.
Keeping a comical, sexy, and ultimately defeated tone to the evening’s proceedings, Chris Chiles lends the Emcee his necessary menace and seduction, drawing the audience into the decadent and depraved world of the Cabaret, as well as Nazi Germany. It’s a showstopping, if tricky, role at times, and Mr. Chiles plots the emotional arc of the night, beginning with the rollicking ‘Wilkommen’ and finishing with the full-blown pathos of ‘I Don’t Care Much’.
Grounding the nightclub and injecting the American viewpoint is John Grieco as Cliff Bradshaw, who pulls off the thankless role of stalwart stoicism in the face of all that flash. And the flashiest, as far as what we’ve been accustomed to seeing, is Sally Bowles. Portrayed by Ruthie Stephens (showing glimmers of Julie Andrews), she is a fragile, flighty singer, ever-needy and ever-ready for the next party. The character of Sally Bowles was never meant to be a great singer – a fact not lost upon critics of Ms. Minnelli’s turn in the film. Here Ms. Stephens is more than adequate, even if her vocals occasionally get lost amid the orchestrations. She is at her most powerful and moving at the acapella start of ‘Maybe This Time’, a neat intro to the torch song, and she more than holds her own throughout it. By the time her final number comes, her character has been through the ringer, and she offers a disturbing but captivating reading of the title song. If you haven’t seen the Broadway revival and are coming here for the happy-go-lucky spirit of Ms. Minnelli, you’ve come to the wrong party.
Giving the show its heart are Gwendolyn Jones and Jerry Christakos as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Ms. Jones and Mr. Christakos provide the emotional fulcrum for the political turmoil, giving a face and a pulse to the sort of bonds and breaks of the world at the time. Their story is poignant and arresting, heartrending but never trite, and their resolution is a bittersweet bow to everything beyond their control.
The rest of the cast sings, dances, and plays instruments as part of the orchestra – which does a fantastic job, never breaking pace or missing a note. This is a gorgeously dark production, emboldened by its decadent, rotting heart, and rooted in the devastation of a Nazi-occupied Berlin. Cabaret runs at the Cohoes Music Hall until April 17, 2011. Their next show, the last of the season, is Crazy For You, and we intend to be there for that in May. You should be too.