Landmark Community Theatre, Thomaston Opera House: Unless you’ve really been off the planet, you have to be aware of how political everything has become. Whether it’s the White House, the NFL, or an awards ceremony, politics is blatantly in our faces. Theater is no exception. The choices artistic directors make and the direction a production takes almost always has a political undercurrent. Certainly director Dan Checovetes thought long and hard about his approach to the great Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret. We know this because in his program notes, it states that this production is based on the 1998 version of the play. That was the one directed by Sam Mendes and choreographed by Rob Marshall. It is not the Bob Fosse movie nor the original Harold Prince production, although this director chose to use the Bob Fosse choreography, which is an unusual pairing to begin with. The bottom line is that this Cabaret is much darker.
Germans are feeling uncomfortable about the Nazis. They don’t know what to expect, but tension is everywhere. Jews, even German born Jews, are being singled out as a group of undesirables. Times are tense. Times are tense here in the USA with illegal immigrants worried about deportation and North Korea threatening. Whatever Checovetes’ reason for taking this route, audience members will definitely notice the difference from this show and the more popular movie version. The thing is that this version has so much negativity in it that it hangs heavy on the entertainment quotient. Nonetheless, Checovetes deserves kudos for taking this line. It’s not the easy choice.
Sally Bowles now has to sing as a mediocre singer at the Kit Kat Klub, a low-end club. Jackie Demaio takes on the challenge and she performs not as the pixie-like adorable Sally, but a hard-hearted performer who knows her limitations. Still, we do hear the rich timbre in Demaio’s warm voice, so we know she’s not a mediocre singer. That’s a hard role to play. Certainly, this Sally Bowles does not stand out and that is intentional.
Frank Beaudry’s character Cliff also does not stand out even though he looks like a natural for the part. This is obviously an ensemble effort, but overall it lacks polish and a little more passion wouldn’t hurt. Even the costumes are rather drab and that is not the case for any version of this play. Jonathan Ross does deliver a stand out performance with his convincing roles.
Apparently, the best laid plans have gone awry at Landmark and even though there are plenty of fine and memorable moments, the production is more flat than edgy. There was a scene in the first act where it sure seemed as if someone dropped lines and there was a technical difficulty with the speakers, which didn’t help. Joe Guttadauro put his heart and soul into his performance of the emcee and it showed, but that hard edge was lost in the artificial poses he struck.
There are two love stories here. One is with Sally Bowles and Cliff, the American novelist. The other is between the German landlady and the fruit merchant. Sally and Cliff hardly indicate real love since Cliff prefers guys and Sally is not going to commit to anything, but Jane Coughlin as Fraulein Schneider and Patrick Hearn come across as the most believable characters in the production. Their vocals are good and their performances excellent. The audience believes they are in love.
The orchestra under the direction of Sean R. Lewis was spot on. Jameson Willey designed the set and lights and all seemed to work well, though some of the entrances and exits were awkward and there were some wait times before the action picked up again at the end of a scene.
Overall, even though there were some rough spots here and there, Come to the Cabaret. This version is an important one to see. It really shows how versatile this show is and how it can be set in many different eras. Thanks to Jackie Demaio’s crystal clear enunciation, the words to the final rendition of the title song become an unbearable reality for Sally. She knows she has lost a lot and that her Cabaret will only be filled with old chums. The darkness that looms throughout the production anticipates the worst of times to come and they did with a World War. Let’s hope that doesn’t follow suit here. Cabaret plays through Feb. 11. Box office: 860-283-6250.
Joanne Greco Rochman was a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is currently an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]