Eclipse presents exceptional ‘Cabaret’

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.

Take a spin with Buck Creek Players

By John Lyle Belden

Times change in every era. Recent years have washed away most of the video stores and game arcades of the 1980s, and that decade, in turn, tore down some old diversions to make room for the new. That’s where we find “The Rink,” the musical running through Feb. 11 at Buck Creek Players.

On a run-down seaside boardwalk, Antonelli’s Roller Rink – once bustling but now in decay, its pipe organ long silent – is closed and due for demolition. The building contains the residence of owner (and “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer”) Anna Antonelli. But as she moves the last of her possessions out, in comes her daughter, Angel, who had left home over a decade before in order to “find herself.” The reunion becomes tense as Angel discovers not only is her childhood home being destroyed, but also her mother forged her signature to sell it. Is this relationship, like the building, now damaged beyond repair?

Typically, I’d mention the creators of the musical up front; but though they personally loved it, it is not the best work by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb. And fortunately, book-writer Terrance McNally would go on to write a number of legendary Tony-winning musicals and plays. But in this, overall, the script is weak — the songs ranging from mildly catchy to cringe-worthy.

Fortunately, BCP and director D. Scott Robinson elevate the material though brilliant casting. Real-life mother and daughter Georgeanna Tiepen (Anna) and Miranda Nehrig (Angel) also happen to be wildly talented actors and singers. Their natural bond shows through, bringing out the heart of the show. A chorus of men play the crew impatiently waiting to tear the place down, as well as, in flashback, the men in the women’s lives. This includes great performances by Jake McDuffy as Dino, Angel’s father, and Michael R. Mills as Dino’s father, the original owner of the rink.

Kudos to set designer Aaron B. Bailey for making the stage an authentic-looking piece of the skating rink’s floor – it even gets some use in a fun interlude when the wrecking crew find some skates.

This show does have its merits, and especially if you empathize with the plight of mothers and prodigal daughters, or have your own cherished boardwalk or rollerskating memories, you’ll find yourself liking your time at “The Rink.”

Also, to complete the atmosphere, BCP has started selling popcorn before the show, which you can partake of in the theatre.

Playhouse is at 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74). Call 317-862-2270 or visit www.buckcreekplayers.com.

Incredible ‘Cabaret’

NOTE: As the Word/Eagle is in flux with the renaming and corresponding change in official website, John is still putting his reviews here.

By John Lyle Belden

The Actors Theatre of Indiana production of Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret” is one of those “even if you’ve seen it before” shows that you absolutely should see.

And if you are only familiar with the Joel Gray/Liza Minnelli movie version of the musical, you haven’t seen it like this – as ATI and director Billy Kimmel opt for the “revival” version of the production. This perfectly suits the brilliant Ben Asaykwee as the randy Emcee (in the Tony-winning style of Alan Cumming).

Asaykwee struts and coos his way through the story of American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Eric J. Olson) and wayward English singer Sally Bowles (ATI co-founder Cynthia Collins) in Berlin just as the Nazis are seizing power. Collins is appropriately brash and charismatic and in great voice. Olson tackles an everyman role (though gay, or at least bisexual) with the perfect touch, our proxy to events that are at first unbelievable in a fun and entertaining sense, then chilled with approaching calamity.

Patrick Vaughn is smooth as the deceptively charming Ernst Ludwig, Debra Babich is strong yet sweet as landlady Fraulein Schneider, and Darrin Murrell as Jewish shopkeeper Herr Schultz makes you ache to know that such a wonderful man is unwilling to see the growing danger around him. Also notable are Judy Fitzgerald as working-girl Fraulein Kost, Nicholas Roman and Kenny Shepard as sensuous bookends Bobby and Victor (and other roles as needed), the BEAUTIFUL Kit Kat girls Nicole Bridgens, Jenee Michelle, Ashley Saunders and Carol Worcel (who also choreographed) and the BEAUTIFUL orchestra.

As history lesson, allegory, love story and brilliant entertainment, this show works on all levels. See it through Nov. 20 at the Studio Theatre (next to the Tarkington) in The Center for the Performing Arts, 4 Center Green, Carmel. Call 317-843-3800 or see www.atistage.org. Note there are a few table seats right next to the stage; inquire with the box office as to availability.

John L. Belden is Associate Editor at The Eagle (formerly The Word), the central-Indiana based Midwest LGBTQ news source.