Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2023

REVIEW: Barrington Stage Company, "Cabaret"

Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA
Through July 8, 2023
By Jarice Hanson
Photo by Daniel Rader
Barrington Stage Company’s production of "Cabaret" is sexy, sultry, wonderful, and disturbing. In his first show directed for BSC since becoming Artistic Director this year, Alan Paul has mined this script to find the buttons that remind us that the world in which we live is still as vulnerable as Berlin in the 1920's. Dictators will stop at nothing to get their way, and the lives of innocent people are sacrificed in the desire to dominate. With the rise of anti-Semitism today, "Cabaret" is a warning to us all. In the words of Cliff Bradshaw, the thinly veiled narrator of the story, “If you’re not against all this, you’re for it. Or you might as well be.”
The book by Joe Masteroff weaves a number of stories together, set against the backdrop of the Kit-Kat Klub in pre-WWII Berlin, where morals are loose, and gender doesn’t matter. In staging this version, Paul has cast a wonderfully talented set of female, male, and non-binary singer/dancers—most of whom perform in drag. These hard-working performers turn the entire theatre into the Kit-Kat Klub with explosive energy. Lighting design by Philip S. Rosenberg dazzles. Costumes by Rodrigo Munoz are sexy and suggestive. Wilson Chin’s set design is big, bold, and delightful.  
The legendary Kander and Ebb score is magnificently realized by nine musicians, prominently featured upstage, center, conducted by Angela Steiner, and the brilliant choreographed by Katie Spelman.  
There is not a weak performer in this ensemble, but specific shout-outs must be made to an effervescent Sally Bowles, played by Krista Rodriguez who is well-matched with the handsome Cliff Bradshaw, played by Dan Amboyer. Both have rich voices and kinetic energy. Sparks fly when these two performers share the stage.
Freulein Schneider and Herr Schultz are played by Candy Buckley and Richard Kline, respectively.  Both performers bring such honesty and sincerity to the stage that they add a unique, sweet dimension to this production. When they sing together and react to the incipient threat menacing the community, you can almost feel a metaphorical embrace from the audience. Alysha Umphress is delightful as Freulein Kost; when she sings, she imbues her songs with foreboding.
Of course, the Kit-Kat Klub’s MC is an extraordinary character and much of the story is told through their songs, gestures, and movement. Nik Alexander is delightfully creepy one moment, sensual and inviting in the next, and ultimately the symbol of decadence juxtaposed with humanity. The MC is a difficult role and Alexander is a master of orchestrating the action in this high-energy production.
Certainly, there are many opportunities to see "Cabaret" played as a celebration of life and a foreboding of authoritarianism. Alan Paul’s interpretation of this story has a bigger impact and stays with you far longer than the light-hearted approaches that make up typical summer fare. He’s created a production that entertains but reminds us that we all have to make decisions about who to follow, and to think about the consequences of action, and inaction. As Freulein Schneider sings, so resolutely; “What would you do?”