In troubled days when the future of our world seemingly dangles between the forces fighting for freedom versus the possibility of nuclear extinction I might impulsively keep myself busy with jazz and liquor to avoid over-thinking about the current state of affairs we live under. However, these entertainments cannot null the pressing reality of our daily struggle for the right to life, equality, love, and happiness. Questions of whom we are “allowed” to love are still as pertinent today as they were in the 1920 and 1930’s.
I was reminded this week that one must always remain alert to the political happenings of their time; because, the sad truth shakes us to realize that we could easily awake one morning wondering why everything is falling apart. The University of Georgia Theatre presents Cabaret, which serves both as a delight for the senses, as well as a think piece about not only 1920’s Berlin, but also of present day America. Director Freddie Ashley’s adaptation of this eight time Tony award-winning musical invites you to leave your troubles at the door while you indulge infectiously on the festival of pleasure, drama, and love. Not to mention the show’s costume design by Erica Manzano that had enough spunk, class, sleaze, and period-correct garments to heighten the aesthetic of familiarity with a touch of new vision. This paired with the intricate set design of Julie Ray reminded me of the famous Es Devlin; this, and the mesmerizing/impeccable precision of capturing the mood via the light design of Richard Dunham provides an experience not easily forgotten.
As many will recall, the 1972 film was a wellspring of untapped passion, fear, regret, and romance as portrayed by the genius of Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli. Here, at UGA, much of that early magic is captured by the Emcee performed by Larry Cox Jr. and Sally Bowles performed by Katie Butcher. Cox’s incendiary portrayal of the lustful (yet love-smitten) Emcee blended the charm of Joel Grey with charisma of Alan Cumming. Watching Cox perform was addictive! His ownership and creative spin on this iconic role made him the overall star of the show. Not to be overshadowed, however, is Butcher’s willingness to dive into the depths of despair and brokenness, which was evident in her performance of the train-wreck Sally Bowles. I could feel the crowd hope with her that “maybe this time [she’ll] win”.
One of the nights biggest surprise stars was Matthew Suwalski’s performance of Herr Schultz. Suwalski captured the innocence of what it would have been like living in Berlin as a German-Jew in the late 1920’s. My heat was breaking as I watched the musical progress from the lively parties of the Kit Kat Club to the historical reality concerning the rise of the Nazi party, and how it tore apart lives that were meant to be together. The poetic truth of this play continues to ask its audience to pause and reflect on the troubles of our time, which they are forced to do while being intoxicated by the fact-paced musical score of John Kander and Fred Ebb.
In the midst of the characters forming their identity through the sexual nightlife at the Kit Kat Club, there is juxtaposed the reality of life in the daytime where the encroaching ideologies of the Nazi party impose the threat that all their individualism and sexual liberation can be taken away at any moment. The play makes one evaluate what privileges they enjoy and what they would do to protect those rights. Those familiar with the play will love this performance; however, it may be hard not singing along to “Money,” or “Mein Herr”. Still they will find this specific adaptation will leaves a deep question in their mind when they exit the theater. Those who have never seen the film or show I merely say: “Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!”
The UGA Theatre will perform Cabaret at the Fine Arts Theatre on North Campus until November 12th, 2017–– only question remains: will you “come to the Cabaret”?
The UGA Theatre
225 Baldwin St.
Athens, GA 20605