By Wendy Carson
When most people think of the musical, “Cabaret,” they consider Sally Bowles to be the main character. However, this is really the story of the writer, Clifford Bradshaw, and his quest to write a novel. It is, after all, based on semi-autobiographical stories by an actual writer living in 1930s Berlin.
Yet, as crafted by Joe Masteroff (with songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb), it is actually the Emcee who is the storyteller and master manipulator of the entire plot. We see him pulling the strings, putting all of the pieces into play, joyously watching the outcomes, and savagely commenting on it all through song. This has never been so utterly clear as it is in Eclipse’s current production.
From the first second he takes the stage, Matthew Conwell’s presence as our host enthralls. We can’t help but obey his every command. Fortunately for the rest of the cast, he directs us all to pay attention to the other performers who are equally outstanding.
The Kit Kat Girls: Rosie (Reagan Cole Minnette), Lulu (Peyton Wright), Frenchie (Cora Lucas), Texas (Julia Murphy), Fritzie (Lizzie Mowry), and Helga (Emily Lynn Thomas), are all at the top of their game. Their dexterity, balance, and skill bringing life to Alexandria Van Paris’s choreography (which in some cases would make even Fosse impressed) shows that they are all destined for promising stage careers if they choose to pursue them. They also bring a hint of joy to the jaded seediness of their roles.
The Kit Kat Boys, Bobby (Isaiah Hastings) and Victor (Jet Terry) are both athletic and charismatic to the point of making you sad that the script doesn’t offer them more stage time.
Cynthia Kauffman gives Sally Bowles a happier outlook. She keeps her character intentionally ignorant to anything around her that is not currently making her happy and promoting her career.
Donathan Arnold’s turn as Clifford Bradshaw makes the character as All-American as apple pie, while reminding us that apples can be tart, rotten, sweet and that all recipes have secret ingredients within them. Being an African American makes casting sense, as in the era Black ex-pats often found Europe more welcoming than back home. And he does seem to enjoy Germany – until he doesn’t.
Judy Fitzgerald and Charles Goad truly break your heart as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a couple so hopelessly in love but still wary of the dangers arising around them.
Mowry’s delightful turn as the dedicated “lover” of sailors, Fraulein Kost, helps bring some much-needed humor into much of the storyline outside of The Kit Kat Club. But her true loyalties are no laughing matter.
Scott Van Wye pours on the charm as the mysterious Ernst Ludwig. We almost don’t mind the true nature of his “work,” until it’s literally on his sleeve.
Eclipse is a program of Summer Stock Stage that gives the alumni of the youth program a chance to be part of a professional production. They not only learn from experienced director Carlos Medina Maldonado but also by working alongside Equity actors Fitzgerald (co-founder of Actors Theatre of Indiana) and Goad.
While I do admit that this musical is one of my all-time favorites, this production makes me feel like I have never actually seen it before. If I could, I would gladly watch every performance.
You can see it Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12, at the Phoenix Theatre, 705 N. Illinois, Indianapolis. Find info and tickets at phoenixtheatre.org.