Thursday, April 10, 2008


It's been a while since a blog entry, and fittingly we kick things back off with a musical review.

The 5th Avenue Theatre closed their 2007-08 season with what ranks as one of my favorite musicals, Cabaret. It's one of the few musical soundtracks that sees frequent play on my MP3 player. It goes without saying that I was looking forward to this show all season. But it wasn't quite as I expected.

Each time you have a new production of an old musical (the original Cabaret opened on Broadway in 1966), you tend to get a fresh new interpretation. One advantage is that you tend to get the best features of all the previous productions. This show was no exception.

The story surrounds Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer in Berlin during the rise of Nazi Germany, who meets an English cabaret star named Sally Bowles. The scenes take place in the context of the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy nightclub with a flamboyant master of ceremonies. The Emcee serves as the narrator tying the entire show together, and is really the true star of the show. This is the only constant throughout the productions I've seen. Once you reach the edges, things vary wildly.

It was the 1998 revival where I developed my love of the show, so I can't help but compare this rendition to then. The 5th's production has a markedly different feel. Where the 1998 revival envisioned the Kit Kat Klub as a very dark and black locale, this version took a bright and jovial approach, characterized by bright reds and shimmering light. Initially I wasn't as impressed, but as the show went on I began to like it. As has almost become expected at the 5th Avenue, the set design was befitting of the finest theatrical productions you'll ever find.

A huge credit goes to the 5th for focusing on the story. The story itself felt much more prominent than previously where the focus seemed to be more on the cabaret song-and-dance aspect. This saved the show for me.

Even the music leaves room for interpretation since much of it is so tightly integrated to the show itself. Perhaps I am a bit too attached to the 1998 soundtrack, but I was a bit disappointed by the music arrangement. The songs were vastly the same of course, but I felt that many of them were taken at a much slower tempo than was really befitting of the show, bringing the cadence of the entire show down with them. With the first act at nearly 1.5 hours, this could have helped as well. I consider that this may have been a conscious decision, but I wasn't impressed. The show could have been better served by being a bit more lively, and though I'm rarely displeased with the musical output of the 5th's productions, this one left me with a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. The orchestra was a bit sloppy and especially out of sync with the singers at times. Ironically, this probably gave it more of an authentic cabaret feel as I would envision it, but if that was their goal it wasn't overt enough to be convincing and the result was underwhelming.

On to the ratings...

Cast: 3 stars - I wasn't particularly impressed. The lead roles were well played, but musically a bit lacking.
Script: 4 stars - The storyline is simple, yet compelling. Proof that complexity is not necessary for a solid script.
Technical: 4 stars - Kudos to the design crews. I give it another 1/2 star bonus.
Music: 3 stars - It pains me to do it, but I must.
Overall: 4 stars - The vision saved this show. Well worth seeing!

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