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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Cabaret:’ The raunchy but captivating show astounds audience

Published: November 22, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

Raunchy, gaudy, captivating. “Cabaret” is the best show that’s been performed so far this entire semester. Starring graduate students Sam Gillam, Alex Jacobs, Alex Johnson, Sara Schoch, Eddie Shields, Laura Jo Trexler and Jonathan Young, the musical is set in 1930s Berlin, where the Nazi Party is gradually becoming stronger and more prevalent. The musical follows a “starving author” named Cliff (Gillam), who falls in love with a British nightclub performer named Sally (Trexler). We also see Lulu, a promiscuous German, and many of the remaining characters fall into the hands of the Nazi Party.

“Cabaret” is not a show you want to miss. The night was full of flapper-esque costumes, dark makeup, dirty humor and provocative dancing. Aside from minor microphone issues in the beginning of the show, everything was carried out flawlessly. Audience members who arrived early were treated to interactions with in-character cast members, who sauntered about holding drinks and cigarettes. I was in awe of the stage set; in the middle of the stage sat a glamorous, but grungy, stone arch. Evocative of a broken-down part of the Emerald City, the arch served multiple functions, as one watching the show will see.

What surprised me (pleasantly) was that every aspect of the show was professional. The fly system was efficient, the live band expertly played all the songs, and, most of all, the cast members were marvelously charismatic. When the band’s microphone created awful screeching noises during “Two Ladies,” Emcee (played by Eddie Shields) and his two ladies continued performing as if nothing had happened.

It should not be unexpected that “Cabaret” is a musical of such high caliber. All of the main cast members are MFA Acting students; in other words, they are of training and experience that exceeds those of a highly talented undergraduate. The Brandeis undergraduates who were in the show, however, are also very talented and should be proud that they are able to be a part of such a high-quality show. My personal favorite is Emcee, who opened and narrated the show. Leering, sexed up, gangly and flamboyant, Emcee added spice to the show, with his eye-accentuating makeup and slouchy saunter. His manic behavior was both creepy and fascinating. Despite the fact that he is loathsome in character, Emcee is absolutely compelling. Shields, who played Emcee, reminded me of Heath Ledger as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” I wish I had brought a trumpet or something loud so that I could cheer louder for him at the end.

From the very beginning, “Cabaret” is racy; at times it’s sexy and at other times downright lewd. Lines like “You can tell my papa, that’s alright, cause he comes in here every night, but don’t tell Mama what you saw” were full of suggestiveness. Some of the songs, like “Two Ladies” and “Money,” were so creepy that I couldn’t help but cringe and ask myself if nightclubs in the thirties were really that crude.

But really, the dancing and singing talent present in the cast of “Cabaret” is extremely impressive. In some of the productions mounted at Brandeis this semester, singers sang but conveyed no emotions. In “Cabaret,” every single note, every single voice was so filled with feeling and energy that I didn’t even know if I was at Brandeis or on Broadway.

There was a relatively large audience, which, ironically, consisted mostly of parents and grandparents. I hope they were warned of the show’s racy costumes, behind-slapping, boob groping, and suggestive mannerisms by their children/grandchildren. I know for a fact that many of the audience members were rather shocked by the end of the first half (spoiler: it involves a Swastika and the Nazi salute), because after the show, I heard numerous parents commenting on the controversial nature of the musical. They weren’t the only ones shocked. Having never seen “Cabaret” before, I was rather taken aback by many of the things I saw on stage. The scandalous nature of the musical was performed so well, so fantastically, however, that the audience still loved “Cabaret.”

Everyone who has spare time needs to watch “Cabaret” this weekend. I cannot say one bad word about it because there is nothing—absolutely nothing —that went wrong tonight. Everything, from the set, to the cast, to the band, was, in short, extraordinary. One thing to I’m still thinking about is why the Brandeis Theater Company chose “Cabaret” this semester. Granted, it is a fabulous show, but it is a controversial one. Not that I, or any of the audience members who attending the opening night minded.