Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Theatre on the Bay’s ‘Cabaret’ meets challenges

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Theatre on the Bay’s ‘Cabaret’ meets challenges

The cast works hard to get the stories across.

MARINETTE, Wis. (WFRV) – A hard-working cast of 15 takes on the challenges and satisfactions of the musical, “Cabaret,” as Theatre of the Bay opens its 48th season at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette. Performances continue through July 27. Info: www.marinette.uwc.edu.

The community-campus production includes doubling of roles and responsibilities and a fair share of ingenuity. In the end, it’s a fine production (4 stars out of 5), that owes a lot to the inspiration drawn from the great material.

***

Creative: Authors – John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics), Joe Masteroff (book), based on the play “I am a Camera” by John van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood; director/scenic and sound design –  John Thornberry; music direction/choral – Leah LaMalfa and Brittany Welch; choreographer – Leah Olsen; costume design – Cassandra Ann; wardrobe supervision/stage management – Annalisa Mines; lighting design – Justin Berres and Lee Bunting; orchestra director – Susan Thornton; Theatre on the Bay artistic director – Rebecca Stone Thornberry.

Cast: Emcee – Anthony LaMalfa; Clifford Bradshaw – James Porras II; Sally Bowles – Leah LaMalfa; – Fräulein Schneider – Lisa Atkinson-LeBoeuf; Herr Schultz – Paul Okray; – Fräulein Kost, Fritzie – Lora Ann Payne-Csaki; Ernst Ludwig – Tristan Schuh; Border Control Officer, Max – Gary L. Scholtz Sr.; Bobby, Taxi Man, First Sailor, Nazi Guard – Nate Koenig; Victor, Second Sailor, Nazi Guard – Adam Schacht; Rosie – Erin Elizabeth W. Doll; Lulu – Molly Gerarden; Frenchie – Betsy Stuck; Texas – Lori Armbrust Patzke; Helga – Brittany Welch.

***

Songs

Act I

“Willkommen” – Emcee, Company

“So What?” – Fräulein Schneider

“Telephone Song” – Clifford, Company

“Don’t Tell Mama” – Sally, Rosie, LuLu, Frenchy, Texas, Fritzy, Helga

“Telephone Dance” – Company

“Perfectly Marvelous” – Sally, Clifford

“Two Ladies” – Emcee, Rosie, Helga

“It Couldn’t Please Me More” – Fräulein Schneider, Herr Schultz

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” – Kit Kat Klub Waiters, Emcee

 “Don’t Go” – Clifford

 “Sitting Pretty” – Emcee, Girls

“Money” – Emcee, Company 

“Married” – Herr Schultz, Fräulein Schneider

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” (Reprise) – Fräulein Kost, Ernst Ludwig, Company

Act II

 Entr’acte / Kickline – Emcee, Girls

“Married” (Reprise) – Herr Schultz, Fräulein Schneider

“If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song)” – Emcee, Gorilla

“What Would You Do?” – Fräulein Schneider

“I Don't Care Much” – Emcee

“Cabaret” – Sally

Finale Ultimo – Company

***

Director John Thornberry and the cast respond to fascinating happenings in three primary locations:

A cheesy nightclub, The Kit Kat Klub, whose decadence reflects Berlin’s devil-may-care attitude in the early 1930s. The dominant presence in the club is the AC/DC Emcee (Tony LaMalfa, in a give-all performance). The place is tawdry in many ways, including in the dancing corps and its featured “star,” Sally Bowles (Leah LaMalfa), a world-wise, sleep-around Brit.

An apartment house where central character writer Clifford Bradshaw (James Porras II) resides, sometimes with Sally Bowles. Landlady Fräulein Schneider (Lisa Atkinson-LeBoeuf) looks the other way for some of the goings-on there.

The fruit shop of Herr Schultz (Paul Okray), a Jew who is about to have his idealism shattered by the rising tide of Nazism.

In the Kit Kat Klub, meanings go beyond double entendre – beyond an aura of whatever happens in Berlin stays in Berlin. The Emcee is friendly/snarky in such songs as “Willkommen,” “Money” and the particularly diabolical “If You Could See Her” with a dancer in a gorilla suit. In the club, even beauty – the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” – is ugly under the surface.

Clifford’s room is partly about sexuality, Clifford’s homosexuality at times being overrun by Sally Bowles dominating, wild force. It’s a place of searching.

The fruit shop is where key parts of the story come to a head. Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz have considered marriage, and in one fell swoop of a rock thrown through the Jewish merchant’s window, that comes to an end.

In a sense, “Cabaret” has three stories going on, all woven together. There’s a lot for the performers to work with, with the show creating a consciousness of knowing what happens in the future in the wake of manipulations of party loyalists such as Ernst Ludwig (Tristan Schuh).

Along with singing oomph, a lot of effort is put into accents by Leah LaMalfa (British), Lisa Atkinson-LeBoeuf (German) and Anthony LaMalfa (an amalgam that includes French).

Scenes change through the use of a few props and the projections, on a movable curtain, of backdrops of rooms and places. The smashing of Herr Schultz’s window is a clever effect.

Much attention is paid to costuming and to multiple dances (many of them with wink-wink tones).

Some scenes are adapted to need (what the cast is able to do) or resources (what the cast can do, such as Paul Okray, as Herr Schultz, playing accordion to enhance the singing of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” by amoral Fräulein Kost (Lori Ann Payne-Csaki).

In the larger picture, “Cabaret” is getting a lot of attention at this time. A production is running on Broadway. Another production is running at the massive Shaw Festival in Canada. Now Theatre on the Bay has a production. The show is almost 50 years old but not showing age but its lasting value.

SEASON AHEAD: “Dr. Doolittle Jr.” (children’s troupe), Oct. 11-19; J.B. Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls,” Nov. 14-23; “The Secret Garden” (children’s troupe), Feb. 13-15; Steven Dietz’ “Becky’s New Car,” April 10-19.

THE VENUE: The 362-seat Herbert L. Williams Theatre is located in the Fine Arts Building of the University of Wisconsin-Marinette. The facility was built in 1968. Central in the theater is a thrust stage, a half octagon that the audience surrounds. The theater includes brick walls on both sides of the stage and a white ceiling of half circles radiating from the stage, with the area above the stage exposed for the guts of the lighting grid. Three steps lead to the stage, which today bears the name The Nancy A. Gehrke Stage. The design of the stage was one of the first of its kind in the region. The theater feels spacious.

THE PEOPLE: Herbert L. Williams was professor of communication arts and artistic director of Theatre on the Bay. He retired after 30 years in May 1996 and continued to direct and perform in Green Bay and the Fox Cities. He may have directed more plays than anyone in the region. Herb Williams died March 19 in Green Bay at age 79. A memorial service will be held July 26 in Herbert L. Williams Theatre. Nancy A. Gehrke acted for 40 years on the stage named for her. Today, painting is a primary passion.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays.

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