'Cabaret' a haunting experience
By Maren Longbella
Rochester's more conservative sensibilities were tweaked when the Kit Kat Club and its denizens came to town for one night only.
"Cabaret," part of the "Broadway in Rochester" series, played at the Mayo Civic Center auditorium Sunday night in all its crotch-grabbing, leg-straddling glory.
Welcomed by an unusual emcee (Christopher Sloan), the audience is introduced to the Berlin club where "even the orchestra is beautiful."
It is a risqué; place, where boy meets girl, boy meets boy or girl meets girl, and in particular British party girl/singer Sally Bowles (Allison Spratt) meets struggling American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (John Byron Holley).
The club, however, is more than just a bawdy venue where troubles are checked at the door. It is the stage for examining something bigger than those who patronize the place, something that will capture them in an ever-tightening net.
The beauty of "Cabaret" is the subtle yet powerful way pre-World War II Nazi Germany is woven into the fabric of the musical. The audience laughs and leers at the characters' ridiculous lives, the girls in their scanties, the older couple who rhapsodize over a pineapple, and then a single moment, a spotlight thrown on a phonograph as it plays "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" changes everything.
A high, pure voice sings the tune. The emcee holds his fingers over his upper lip in imitation of Hitler and salutes. The inevitable has begun.
Now the characters are not so ridiculous as poignant. Their troubles escalate as the stakes get higher, and the actors are at their best when desperation sets in.
Spratt in particular grew in charisma as her Sally comes to terms with her relationship with Cliff and her life at the Kit Kat Club. She stunned with an angry, defiant rendition of "Cabaret" near the conclusion.
But it's Sloan who steals the show. The emcee is the heart and soul of the musical, and if whoever plays him is not up to the challenge, then the show's failure is assured.
Sloan inhabited the role. He was catty, arch and randy when necessary, but also funny, making the final image of him in concentration camp stripes all the more unbearable.
Although "Cabaret" has its moments of levity, like the emcee, it is ultimately a haunting experience that resonates long after it's over.