New twists and strong performances make Studio 58's Cabaret a darkly satirical delight
Book by Joe Masteroff. Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Directed by Josh Epstein. A Studio 58 production. At Studio 58 on Saturday, February 2. Continues until February 24
The set for Studio 58’s production of the Tony Award–winning musical Cabaret features large letters that light up to spell KABARETT. This German word can refer to both cabaret-style entertainment and political satire. And Studio 58’s retelling of Cabaret, under the direction of Josh Epstein, is both. Audiences are drawn into an imaginative world where the Kit Kat dancers interact with guests and provide high-energy, rousing song-and-dance numbers that eventually turn into political commentary—at first more lightly satirical, then turning very dark.
Epstein and his creative team have transformed Studio 58’s theatre into the show’s Kit Kat Klub, a sexy, fun nightclub in 1930s Berlin. There are a few tables on the stage level, where some lucky audience members get to sit and enjoy the action up close and personal. And while the Kit Kat Klub is described as “seedy” within the musical, Studio 58’s version is tasteful enough that audiences won’t feel uncomfortable. The male and female Kit Kat dancers welcome the audience in before the show, offering free candy and creating an inviting atmosphere. There’s even an amusing preshow comedy and dance presentation featuring some of the cast members.
The story follows the experiences of American writer Cliff Bradshaw as he discovers the decadent world of Berlin, where sexual and artistic liberty are celebrated even as the Nazi takeover and the Second World War loom. Overseeing the action, often from her perch at the top of a ladder, is the Emcee, played by the talented Paige Fraser. It was refreshing to see Fraser take on a role traditionally played by men, and Fraser’s version exudes zesty, amusing personality when she kicks the show off with “Willkommen”, before gradually getting more twisted.
Dylan Floyde’s version of Cliff is one of youthful innocence and energy—much of which is probably pent-up sexual energy, given how Cliff comes to Berlin to explore his sexuality. Julia Munčs and Moe Golkar are standouts as the mature couple Fraülein Schneider and the Jewish Herr Schultz, whose romantic relationship is threatened by the rise of the Nazis. As two young adults, Munčs and Golkar are superb at portraying people 40 years or so older than they are. They perform their duet “It Couldn’t Please Me More” with touching affection for each other, and Munčs’s rendition of “What Would You Do?” late in the show is heartbreaking, as we see an elderly woman crushed by the toil of life.
Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt offers fresh ideas, including a version of “Mein Herr” that features the male Kit Kat dancers instead of the female ones (which is the norm), and a highly imaginative take on “Money”, where a female dancer clutching a piggy bank leads the ensemble into a descent into madness, symbolizing society’s obsession with cash.
Set designer Drew Facey’s inventive KABARETT letters prove to be multipurpose, as they double as doors and also look gorgeous when lit up, providing a stunning backdrop for the Kit Kat Klub performers.
The innovations and the strong cast performances not only make this production of Cabaret entertaining, but also keep the show (which opened on Broadway in 1966) relatable in its commentary on societal compliance in the face of dark forces.