Courtesy of Ithaca College

May 8, 2018

Love and Lust in a Burning Forest

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“There was a cabaret and there was a master of ceremonies and there was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany. It was the end of the world…” So writes Cliff Bradshaw, the starry-eyed American novelist whose search for love and adventure in 1930s Germany frames John Kander and Fred Ebbs’s Cabaret. In the haze of the Kit Kat Klub, a haven for stockings, lipstick, and high-heeled performers, Berlin is in full-view, beautiful in its celebration of self and doomed by the rising political waves that would ultimately engulf Europe.

Ithaca College’s production of Cabaret was an astounding success, executed with masterful design, orchestration, choreography and particularly amazing talent. Designed to bring the audience into the nightclub, with red “Ausgang” signs, dim lights and the orchestra dressed as a cabaret band, Clark Theatre brought the tantalizing Kit Kat Girls and Gals as close to the audience as possible. With as many can-can lines and lipstick smeared faces as one could hope for, the diverse ensemble dressed evocatively, sang and danced their way back in time to pre-WWII Germany The cabaret, as said by the Emcee, is a bunch of wild kids getting wilder and wilder waiting to be caught by the adults.

The story of Cabaret follows American novelist Cliff Bradshaw, Corey Kline ’18, as he looks to finish his novel in pre-WWII Berlin. His desire for adventure and a life worth living brings him to the Kit Kat Klub, where he meets the mesmerizing Emcee and falls in love with the “one and only” Sally Bowles (Sydney Parra ’18). This leading performer pair takes the love of drugged-up drama queen Bowles and a bisexual Cliff lost in lust and love to a new level of rawness. The actors portrayed Cliff and Sally’s deranged and jealous love beautifully, matching the setting around them: a city rotting away from hate, slowly being consumed by evil.

The April 26 production saw Will Thames ’18 (understudy) play the role of Emcee, commanding the stage and the audience’s attention as the production’s metaphoric Minelli.

In a role it seems only he could play, Thames brought an intoxicating spirit and was theater gold. A haunting, damned character for his time, the Emcee is the show’s venerable narrator, framing all its events, stalking the shadows as the production’s harbinger of debaucherous celebration and doom. It is worth noting that Thames’s performance indicates even more success for the role’s listed performer, Tuan Malinowski.

Among all the lipstick and fishnets, Cabaret’s most compelling romance is between the middle-aged boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider and her older suitor, the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schulz. The tender and doomed love of the production’s most endearing characters is portrayed by the show’s standout pair, Mackey Sakamoto-Simmons ’18 as Schulz and Hannah Clarke Levine ’18 as Scheider. Sakamoto-Simmons and Clarke Levine had audiences equally laughing (especially to “A Pineapple,” a ballad in which Schulz gifts Schneider an exotic fruit and token of his love) as crying when the anti-Semitism of their time rips their love apart.

Despite what the Emcee exhorts, leaving one’s troubles outside is impossible for the Kit Kat Klub as Nazis rise to power in Berlin. The show begins with the androgynous, crossdressing emcee turning off the radio transmission of a Hitler address in the dancer’s dressing rooms. As the show’s narrative progresses, the clandestine rise of Nazism rears its ugly head in the form of Ernst Ludwig, the charming stranger who welcomes Cliff to Berlin and Fraulein Kost, the hooker-turned-Nazi.

It is impossible to divorce this performance of Cabaret from the events that frame its audience’s interpretation of the story. Following Ludwig and Kost’s number of Nazi-praise, the audience was hesitant to applaud. The audience knew that applauding even the performance of Nazism was unseemly. At times, audience members shuddered, as even the mocking of a Hitler salute called to mind the increasing number of hate crimes against minorities of race, religion, sexual orientation and other identities rise in America. Never before has a haunting representation of the rise of hatred been so relevant in the United States.

For those of the Kit Kat Klub, it was the end of the world. It was the end of the self-expression and free-living that the cabaret had come to symbolize. Amongst this beauty grew a flame of politicized hatred and mobilized evil. Like too many things in Germany and across Europe, the beauty of the Cabaret, all its vibrant individuals and its unrivaled energy would be enveloped in flames and become a ruin of a world once known. This story as performed by Ithaca College’s magnificent cast and crew ensured that the story of the Cabaret burned bright into the minds of the audience and reminded them just what stakes there are when expression, individuality and love are eclipsed by bigotry, hatred and pure evil.

“Cabaret” was directed by Catherine Weidner, Chair of the Department of Theatre Arts. The 1998 version, as performed by Ithaca College, which unlike earlier versions clearly indicates Cliff’s homosexuality or bisexuality, includes Sally’s numbers “Maybe This Time” and “Mein Herr” giving more depth and tragedy to the leading lady. It tells the story of the ill fated LBGT community in the Kit Kat Klub, and all others Nazis that will systematically persecute and destroy during their takeover of Germany and Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

Henry Graney is a junior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected].