Play Review: ‘Cabaret’ Captivates at Millennial

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Emcee at the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy jazz club in 1930s Germany, bids the audience “Willkommen,” or welcome, and gets Millennial Theater Company’s production of “Cabaret” off to a thundering start.

Millennial continues to set the bar high with the Kander/Ebb musical, which opened Friday at Hopewell Theatre.

Directed by Joe Asente, “Cabaret” is another solid notch in the belt of the theater company, which continues to crank out professional Broadway-style productions.

Although it is a musical, and has a rather light first act, the subject matter is dark and conveys a message today that is just as relevant as when the musical premiered in 1966.

The story unfolds amid the rise of Nazi power in Germany. It revolves around American writer Cliff Bradshaw, who becomes romantically involved with Sally Bowles, a singer at the Kit Kat Klub. But a more powerful subplot involves the relationship between Herr Schultz, a fruit vendor, and Fraulein Schneider, the owner of the boarding house where Bradshaw lives.

The central character, The Emcee, played by Connor Bezeredi, carries much of the show and shows up in various instances throughout. Bezeredi is excellent with his acting – he puts the character across without an acting flaw. The flaw, however, for this writer is the version of “Cabaret” being presented.

This is one of two revivals of the original show and considerable changes were made.
One major change is the interpretation of the Emcee character, which is played very much over the top and very different from the original. Therein lies the problem, as I find the character to not be menacing enough, and less foreboding than in the original.

Bezeredi did his job well, even if the character got in the way. Add to that the opening number, with the canned music being too loud and the German accent being a bit too thick. It obliterated much of what he sang. I know this score well and still couldn’t catch a lot of it.

Other notable changes in this version are songs that were cut from the original, such as “Telephone Song” and “Meeskite.” Bezeredi does fine vocal work with “If You Could See Her” and “I Don’t Care Much.”

Bradshaw and Bowles are played by Edward Bazzell and Hannah Sinclair, respectively. Bazzell gives a great portrayal of the innocent wide-eyed American visiting Germany for the first time. Totally oblivious to pretty much everything in this strange country, Bazzell carries the character well and makes a credible transition in the darker second act.

Sinclair shines on stage as Sally Bowles with a voice to match. She portrays the depth of the character well, showing Sally as a tortured character, not happy in her situation but not willing to take the steps to get out of what is her own twisted comfort zone. All of this comes to the forefront in her rendition of “Cabaret” in Act II.

There is little question that the two strongest performances in the production were that of Molly Galano as Fraulein Schneider and Terry Shears as Herr Schultz – two of the strongest character actors in town. It was refreshing to see them in a musical – something that neither does frequently. The chemistry between the two was sheer magic. Their musical numbers of “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married” left the audience wanting more from both characters. Galano provided that “more” with a touching and moving rendition of “What Would You Do?”

Other strong performances came from Carolyn Colley as Fraulein Kost, a boarder at Schneider’s establishment. Her acting is strong but she excelled musically in “Married” and “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise)”; a strong closer to Act I. Ben Doss turns in a good performance as the smiling, friendly Ernst Ludwig and does well to blend that smile with the character’s sinister intent.

“Cabaret” has a first rate and energetic ensemble that is on stage much of the show and helps to drive the direction of the plot. Both choreographically and vocally, the ensemble is professional, sharp, and on target in each number.

Director Joe Asente and musical director Tyler Stouffer have hit the bullseye once again at the Millennial Theatre Company. Strong casting, great musical direction, a strong cast and technical elements support and enhance the entire production.

Danielle Mentzer’s choreography is masterful, complex and fits the style of the show and the show’s period to a “T.” Costume design by Daniel Chiaberta adds color and decadence. Set design by Asente is both complex and simple with a two-tier set with three doors and two draped entrances – add red and black color motif and he accents the dark nature of the subject.

“Cabaret” can be classified as an old classic but the subject matter and message resonate as clearly today as when it first premiered. The Millennial Theatre Company has put a spectacle on the stage at the Hopewell Theatre. Catch it before it goes away.

Cabaret continues Jan. 20, 26, 27, Feb. 2, 3 at 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 21, 28 at 2 p.m.

Pictured at top: Hannah Sinclair plays the role of singer Sally Bowles in Millennial Theatre Company’s production of “Cabaret.”

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