'Cabaret' tells a necessary story about antisemitism
Department of Performing Arts sells out Katzen with a lively performance
The thought-provoking and animated musical “Cabaret” was performed by AU’s Department of Performing Arts on Oct. 28-29 and Nov. 4-5. The production, directed by Carl Menninger, was effective and impactful with its inclusion of gender fluidity, sexual exploration, anti-semitism and the bystander effect.
Cabaret takes place in 1920s Berlin, Germany, as Nazism is on the rise. The performance draws the audience in with provocative dancing and sexual innuendos, but in the second act, the mood of the musical shockingly turns.
The audience is introduced to American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Wyatt Lowrie) as he travels to Berlin to find inspiration for his novel. He quickly finds his way into the Kit Kat Klub, a lively nightclub with suggestive dancers and singers. It is there that he meets dancer Sally Bowles (Ava Wilson). Sally shows Cliff the thrills of the city, but the audience is quick to learn of her personal trauma.
The show’s narrator, Emcee (Luke Stowell), steals the show with his sensual yet serious interjections. He also provides a humorous relief to the production while having an active role in the shocking ending.
Stowell, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, truly brought the show to life with his improv and interactions with the audience during intermission.
“There is no ‘one way’ to play the Emcee, other than to let some weird stuff fly and see what sticks. I had to come up with the sounds, faces and gestures that would have the best impact,” Stowell said. “My biggest fear was becoming too performative in front of a live audience.”
There were many purposefully uncomfortable nods to the Nazi regime, including the use of swastikas, the sieg heil and derogatory lines throughout the show. Still, the ensemble cast worked to share a message against anti-semitism with respect and nuance.
“I hope people take away the need for a conversation on antisemitism in today’s world — just as much as it was needed back then and it didn’t happen,” said Siena Maxwell, a CAS senior and the show’s assistant director. “We’re in a moment that is very scary for a lot of people, because this stuff has been allowed to gain so much traction and so much media attention. In order to stop things you have to be able to shut down the whole bystander effect. And, I think about what this whole show is about.”
The Kit Kat Klub dancers had their own unique impact on the crowd, embracing the seductive element of the show while keeping their movements clean and sharp. The effort to make a connection with the audience was commanding. Likewise, the stage set and costumes seemed to enhance the intoxicating and electrifying atmosphere.
“As dance captain of the production, it was my responsibility to coordinate a full-cast check in and check out before and after the production,” said CAS junior Abigail Altemoose. “Cate Ginsberg was our choreographer and a recent alumni of AU Musical Theater. She did an outstanding job.”
In addition to the exploration of Jewish identity and persecution, the plot lines involving female trauma and expressions of anger took center stage. This was embodied by the dancers as well as Sally.
The most anticipated song of the show, “Maybe This Time,” a powerful ballad on Sally’s inner conflictions, exceeded expectations. Wilson showed off her strong vocals and emotional vibrato with each lyric, forcing the audience to feel Sally’s pain.
“I think the actors are doing such a great job of really telling a story that is hard to tell, and really telling a story that is powerful and kind of difficult to watch,” Menninger said. “I think they get behind it, and their conviction and energy they bring to it is so honest and so genuine. I’m really, really proud of them.”