Director/ choreographer Joel Ferrell just unleashed a hair-raising Cabaret that provokes intense primal response, entertains with original creative interpretation and inspires somber reflection about man’s capacity for evil. Roiling with multi-sexual erotica and drug-laced hedonism, Dallas Theater Center’s production smokes with choreographed throbbing, pulsating groins (male, female, tranny) while revealing fascism’s gain of insidious domination over 1931 Berlin. Ferrell’s direction’s brilliant timing and savage, explosive energy grips the audience by the throat during the first bar of “Wilkommen”, executed with sadistic, reptilian joie de vivre by Emcee Wade McCollum and his lascivious, gyrating Kit Kat Girls and Boys. It leads the audience on a cadenced operatic-scale journey, rising to an unanticipated visual crescendo, in heart-wrenching silence, at finale.
Anyone who attends DTC’s production expecting to see a recreation of the 1972 Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli film version is in for a rude awakening. Broadway director Sam Mendes co-directed a 1998 version that became the third longest-running revival in Broadway musical history and won the Tony for Best Revival of A Musical. In addition to major re-orchestration and both adding and deleting songs, his version emphasized the hedonistic erotica of the German cabaret scene of the pre-WWII era, flaunting homo and bi-sexual encounter in a brazen way previous mountings barely hinted. Under Joel Ferrell’s bold direction, the DTC production builds on Mendes’ while adding significant interpretation of its own.
A transgender portrayed member of the Kit Kat Girls chorus (and one of the girls in “Two Ladies”) amps the show’s sexuality with contemporary sensibility (Walter Lee Cunningham, Jr.). Sally Bowles is no wide-eyed innocent. She’s just as caught up in narcissistic, drug and booze-riddled promiscuous behavior as the next cheap singer, oversexed, ambitious chorus boy or unlucky prostitute who wanders into the Kit Kat Club in search of a high and a few marks. What’s best in Kate Wetherhead’s performance is her gritty, unflattering depiction of Sally Bowles as a woman who fully intends to live and die carpe diem, just like “friend Elsie” she idolizes in the song ”Cabaret.” Bisexual, co-dependent boyfriends and unintended pregnancies be damned; Sally’s out for number one.
Strong performances from all cast members kick this production into high gear, with David Coffee and Julie Johnson creating particularly lovable portrayals of the elderly star-crossed lovebirds Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider. Sally Nystuen Vahle takes an original approach with the role of prostitute Fraulein Kost, frequently thrown away on a younger performer doubling from the Kit Kat Girls. Vahle presents Kost as a multi-dimensional tragic and catalytic figure, in intriguing dramatic contrast to the conventional, fearful Fraulein Schneider. It’s also a thrill to see well-respected local talent used effectively in their DTC debuts in ways that allow their considerable talents to shine: Jeremy Dumont, Katharine Gentsch, Alex Ross.
And there’s a veritable powerhouse performance. From the moment opening scene lights focus on him as Emcee, Wade McCollum cocks a hip, curls a lip and uncoils his gaunt, ripped body in a malevolent, dystopic portrayal that feels part Mick Jagger, part Sting, part A Clockwork Orange “droog”. He’s captivating, original, a master of vocal delivery and movement, absolutely riveting: NOTHING like Joel Grey (who was marvelous in his own right).
Joel Ferrell’s Cabaret is the best production I’ve seen to date by the Dallas Theater Center. The production’s final moment is as thought provoking and gut wrenching as the rest of the show is a sheer delight in spectacle, song, movement and characterization.
With set, sound, lights and costumes that bring the stage fantasy palpably to vivid life: Bob Lavallee, Ray Nardelli, Lap Chi Chu, Clint Ramos; along with superb musical direction and onstage conducting by Elaine Davidson and assistant choreography by Kent Zimmerman. Come inside where life is beautiful and hear the music play….
Tickets: www.dallastheatercenter.org 214.880.0202
Dallas Theater Center’s Cabaret, directed and choreographed by Joel Ferrell, runs at Dallas’ Wyly Theatre through May 22, 2011.
Photos: Karen Almond