The Kenyon College Players’ (KCP) production of Cabaret delivered an emotional punch with a flawlessly choreographed, gin-soaked fist. It was a dazzling, devastating success. Ask anybody who was lucky enough to score a seat in the Harlene Marley Theater last weekend; they’re probably still thinking about it.
Originally written in 1966 by Fred Ebb and John Kander, Cabaret centers around the doomed romance between two expatriates in Weimar-era Berlin, during the rise of the Nazi party. The musical’s characters seem blind to the rising horror around them, until a series of events force their eyes open. Part of what makes Cabaret work is the way its humor, music and sexuality initially mask the show’s dark themes. As a result, the story’s eventual turn towards tragedy feels even more like a wake-up call. Pulling it off, however, requires skill, passion and the cohesion of many moving parts.
It was the mastering of these elements that made KCP’s Cabaret so great. There was an overwhelming sense that everyone involved put in their hardest work. The tears in the cabaret dancers’ stockings emphasized the run-down state of the Kit Kat Club (the cabaret in Cabaret), and the more noticeable details, like the actors’ convincing German accents speak to their dedication. The cast’s performances were entertaining and nuanced. Olivia Lindsay ’19 as British singer Sally Bowles was a highlight, captivating the audience with every song, dance and quippy line delivery without losing the vulnerability so intrinsic to the character. Adam Riva ’21 also showed impressive range as the Emcee, fluctuating between good-humored and chilling moments with ease.
Mackenna Goodrich ’20 directed and choreographed the show, and took full advantage of the theater’s black box setting to bring her vision to life. Characters made phone calls from the lighting booth and answered them from the front row of the audience. Several dancers at the Kit Kat Klub made an entrance by cartwheeling into the opening number. The limited performance space did not take away from Goodrich’s choreography; rather, its closeness seemed to highlight the coordination and athleticism of the dancers.
The production’s intimate setting, combined with a minimalist set design, enhanced the scenes set in the actual cabaret. So did the live orchestra, which was positioned at the back of the theater throughout the show. The student musicians wore stockings and suspenders so they fit in with the ambiance of the Kit Kat Klub, and the jazzy entr’acte gave them an opportunity to show off their talents. When the show’s dancers invited audience members to join them for a song, the theater seemed to transform into an actual nightclub.
The space was not without its faults, though. Audience seating was limited, and the way the chairs were arranged obstructed certain audience members from viewing the main action. Still, it’s difficult to imagine another space on campus serving the story better.
KCP’s Cabaret is an example of how good a production can be when a team has the passion to put in the necessary work. The result is a show that entertains its audience while also giving them plenty to ponder.