REVIEW: Cabaret

Providence Performing Arts Center

Dark.  Interesting.  Raunchy. Sad. Provocative. Brilliant.

Pick one – or all – and you’ve got a descriptor for CABARET currently running at the Aronoff Center through May 22nd.

Set in Germany just before the Holocaust, this musical looks at life before Hitler changed the world.  And it does so using the Kit Kat Club as the backdrop for two romances, both doomed from the start.  It’s a heck of a way to tell a story.

Randy Harrison (from TV’s “Queer as Folk” and a CCM Graduate) stars as the Emcee.  Reminiscent of this season’s PIPPIN, this character frames the story as an omniscient narrator of sorts.  Harrison is charismatic but relaxed, charming and creepy all at the same time.  He introduces us to the guys and gals in the company (including Cincinnati and CCM’s Leeds Hill and Sarah Bishop, who graduated last spring from UC’s acclaimed musical theatre program).  Each of these performers also sit in the orchestra at various times in the show, adding to the intrigue of the production.

The heart of the show comes from Shannon Cochran (“Fraulein Schneider”) and Mark Nelson (“Herr Schultz”) as an older couple who reflect a mature type of Romeo and Juliet romance.  His Jewish heritage becomes a problem, you see, and things take a bleak turn at the end of Act One.  Also featured are Lee Aaron Rosen as “Cliff,” an American novelist who falls in love with cabaret singer “Sally Bowles” played by Andrea Goss.  Goss has such a beautiful and stunning voice, with a belt that betrays her diminutive size.  Her heart-wrenching rendition of the song “Cabaret” at the end of Act Two is mesmerizing.

All of the actors are outstanding and natural in their performances. The narrative is told in such a straightforward way that the musical breaks featuring the dark and seductive cabaret performers contrasted better than one might imagine.  Film directors Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) and Rob Marshall (“Chicago”; “Pirates of the Caribbean”) give the production a cinematic feel.  All of the technical elements – sound, lighting, special effects work together to create an atmosphere that is specific to time and place yet mystical, too.  It’s really quite remarkable.

My mother commented on my FaceBook check-in that this is one she’d like to see.  I quickly corrected her; its too dark and bawdy for her.  And maybe others; Cincinnati audiences aren’t always known for being adventurous.  But if one goes in open-minded and prepared for quite a ride, CABARET is a show definitely worth seeing.  I highly recommend it.

CABARET runs through May 22nd at the Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati.  Click here for more information.