Radio Free Mattopia: You won't fool the children of the revolution. (T-Rex)

"What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a cabaret, old chum."

Cabaret at Arvada Center
In here, life is beautiful
Photo: Arvada Center

26 March 2011
Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities
Arvada, Colorado, USA

In the program for Arvada Center's production of Cabaret director Christy Montour-Larson says, "I would question anybody who doesn't have Cabaret on the list of the top five greatest musicals ever written."

I agree.

For the past couple years, Arvada Center's caught my attention by staging some of my favorite shows and providing me with an opportunity to revisit all my adventures in New York and experiences on Broadway.

Cabaret is in the top five.

I was fortunate enough to catch the 1998 revival at the Kit Kat Club in New York City. That show, with Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles and Alan Cumming as the Emcee, was life altering. The music, the songs, the story, the cast, the atmosphere. It was electric.

Wow. What a show!

Directed by Sam Mendes (Oscar winning director of American Beauty) and choreographed by Rob Marshall (the Oscar-nominated mastermind behind the movie version of Chicago, also written by Kander and Ebb) truly have a taste for the theatrical.

And I saw it again (and again and again) when it moved to Studio 54 – yes, the Studio 54. Talk about a synergistic merging of gaudy, heady, hedonistic histories. Berlin, meet New York. New York, Berlin. As I recall, the floor seating was done up like a traditional cabaret, with chair seating accompanied by small tables for drinks.

Happily, Arvada Center's struck again. I don't know what it is or how they do it, but the casting was once again top notch. Kendal Hartse made the role of Sally Bowles her own and Leo Ash Evens was superb as the Emcee.

Cabaret at Arvada Center
Kendal Hartse as Sally Bowles
Photo: Arvada Center

Berlin, meet Arvada. Arvada, Berlin.

There's no doubt this production was based on that 1998 revival, as opposed to the original staging or the Liza Minelli movie. The song selection, the tawdry costumes, and the sexually-charged Emcee all point back to that high-water mark for a revival.

The fun starts early, with the Emcee quickly taking the opportunity to move out into the audience, walking up the steps, picking on a couple audience members in the first few rows. Later on, he'll take a seat on the steps and witness a part of the show. Great personality, great presence.

As for Kendal's take on Sally Bowles, she totally nailed the British party gal blinded by the dark side of Berlin. My one and only nitpick about her performance was that I missed a sense of despair while she sang Cabaret. Her makeup was out of whack (as expected), but her voice and body were in full command. Her voice was so good, so powerful, it's impossible to argue with the performance of the song itself. The strength of that performance, though, overpowered the downward-moving mood that is creeping in as the characters' lives fall apart.

I'll say it again, though. That's a nitpick. Kendal's performance: Awesome.

That aside aside, Montour-Larson's staging of the ending is extremely effective.

The Emcee makes his entrance on a riser in the front center of the stage, exuberant and crisply dressed to the nines. He departs down the same path he entered, but a tattered shadow of his former greatness.

"Meine Damen und Herren... Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so. We have no troubles here!
Here life is beautiful... the girls are beautiful... even the orchestra is beautiful."

Editor's Note: I'm keeping this one short because I have to get ready for my annual jaunt to New York. It'll include a big dose of Broadway: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Jerusalem, and Catch Me If You Can. Who knows. Maybe several years down the road they'll be a part of Arvada Center's season. Yeah, even Spider-Man. After all, if the music's great, it can support all kinds of staging and interpretations, much like Shakespeare.



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