“Welcome! And Bienvenue! Warm welcome!”
With these words, the audience is welcomed into the world of “cabaret” – and back into the theater of the Peterborough Players.
Opening at 7:30pm on Thursday 23 June, ‘Cabaret’ is the first play to be performed indoors on the Peterborough Players Barn Stage since 2019 and it makes a smashing return. With a minimalist backdrop and props, the majority of the play is sustained by costumes, superb lighting effects and an outstanding cast and live band performing above the stage in front of the audience.
Director Tom Frey selected the 1998 version of the play, the more widely produced version of the story than the original 1966 version. Along with choreographer Ilyse Robbins and music director Jenny Kim-Godfrey, the boarding house will be run by Kit Kat Klub and Miss Schneider with his colorful characters come alive on the Players’ Stage.
“Cabaret” revolves around the Kit Kat Klub, a hedonistic cabaret club still reveling in the sunset of the jazz age, where you might get a call from an interested girl – or boy – at your table (this is Berlin, after all). says Bobby, one of the Kit Kat Boys) – from the stage. But right outside its doors is 1930s Berlin on the verge of the rise of the NSDAP.
Impoverished American author Cliff Bradshaw, played by Brandon Grimes, comes to Berlin in search of inspiration for his new novel and meets Sally Bowles, an English singer and once the crown jewel of the Kit Kat Club who is now unemployed.
In a surprisingly tender contrast to the often racy numbers with the beautiful boys and girls of the Kit Kat Club, a subplot of the play follows the romance of Bradshaw’s innkeeper Miss Schneider and her smitten suitor, Herr Schultz, a Jew fruit seller.
The play presents a striking contrast between its two acts – it grows darker as the reality of impending catastrophe looms over it. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise)”, the final number of Act I, reveals the dark underpinnings of the play’s setting and literally sent shivers down my spine. Led by a solo by Bridget Beirne as Fräulein Kost, a German prostitute living in Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house, the song morphs from a light patriotic song to a darker marching song, revealing just how widespread Nazi sentiment has become, a chilling one Turn after a mostly upbeat musical numbers in the first half.
The Kit Kat Club numbers in the first half of the performance are wonderfully daring and performed with a minimum of props. The ensemble’s dancers are on point, a key when rhythm plays such an important role in the performance.
Michelle Beth Herman as Sally Bowles shines in the role. We are introduced to her in the number Don’t Tell Mama, a fun, flirty number with the ensemble. Herman’s club performances hit just the right note for a cabaret show – a bit risqué but overall just fun to watch. But the emotional numbers carry a different weight.
Herman’s rendition of “Maybe This Time,” Bowles’ wistful plea for happiness, sets the tone for the remainder of the show. The music seems pulled out of her in a touching way that does the iconic song justice. But for me, “Cabaret,” the penultimate number on the show, is Herman’s best number. Intended to be a mixture of triumphantly returning to the stage while giving up the dreams she wished for in “Maybe This Time,” the conflict and deep emotion make it the show’s most compelling song.
Accompanying Herman, Grimes acts as the audience’s surrogate, the outsider blinded by the Kit Kat Klub and Berlin’s nightlife – and by Sally Bowles – but with enough knowledge to read the signs as things develop .
Another standout performer is Matthew McGloin as the Kit Kat Klub’s master of ceremonies. McGloin spends most of the show in heavy makeup, with a character begging for an over-the-top performance, and doesn’t lose himself behind the makeup or costume. Comparing McGloin’s performances in “Money” or “Two Ladies” to the absolutely script-bending “I Don’t Care Much” shows just how much range McGloin brings to the role.
Joy Hermalyn as Miss Schneider and Kraig Swartz as Herr Schultz offer a candid lineage as they fall in love with a sweet but doomed love. Hermalyn’s operatic and Broadway background is showcased in her performance, with her final song on the show, “What Would You Do?”. as her outstanding performance of the evening.
Cabaret is an ambitious project for the return of the Players, making it an even more triumphant take on the Broadway classic. Don’t miss this.
“Cabaret” runs through July 3, with performances every night except Mondays. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and at 4 p.m. on Sundays. Single tickets are $47 and can be purchased at peterboroughplayers.org or by calling the box office at 603-924-7585 from 10:00 a.m. to showtime on performance days or from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on non-performance days
The Peterborough Players are obligated to wear masks for spectators. Actors on stage are unmasked during the performance. Should the risk level in Hillsborough County reach red status, all eating and drinking must be done al fresco.
Theatergoers should note that cabaret contains adult themes and language and uses flashing lights.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, ext. 244 or [email protected] She is on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.