Watching Cabaret at Segerstrom Center for the Arts
Growing up I watched tons of musicals and would sing and dance along with Meet Me In St. Louis, Oklahoma, The Music Man and many more. As I grew older my love for the genre expanded to the theater. I remember a grade school field trip to the local high school production of Bye Bye Birdie – I though it was fantastic. For my 17th birthday my grandma and aunt took me to the touring production of Show Boat and I was in heaven. They bought me the soundtrack as a souvenir and I still treasure it to this day. So, needless to say, when my friend Marcie of Surf City Family invited me to Cabaret I didn’t hesitate to RSVP.
The 2016 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET – Photo by Joan Marcus.
We attended the opening night performance of the Round Table Theatre Company’s Cabaret at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the very same theatre I had seen the production of Show Boat all those years ago! It was a packed house and we both were eager to see the show. A few years ago I had watched the film and, while it’s not one of my favorites, I was curious to see how it translated to the stage.
Here’s the thing, the film and the play are almost completely different. After watching the play I fell into a Wikipedia wormhole and found the original play from the 1970’s, the film and the current revival are three distinct productions. Going into the theatre I had no idea and was pretty surprised to find out that the Emcee is basically the star. Sally Bowels (the star of the film) is one the leads, yes, but the show really belongs to the Emcee.
Randy Harrison as the Emcee and the 2016 National Touring cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET – Photo by Joan Marcus.
Now, I love Alan Cumming. Love, love, love him. I’ve watched several clips of his Emcee and it’s an incredible performance. So much so that when the curtain came up and Randy Harrison, the current Emcee, began to sing I was a little disappointed. It doesn’t help that the opening number “Willkommen” is totally owned by Cumming. But I kept an open mind and as the show continued I forgot about him and focused on Harrison, who does really shine in the role. By the dramatic conclusion I was completely won over and felt he delivered both the comedy and pathos effortlessly.
In another marked difference from the film the play has not one but two main couples. There, of course, is Sally and her lover, Cliff, but there is also Cliff’s landlady Fräulein Schneider and the local shopkeeper, Herr Schulz. The love affair between Sally and Cliff is not as significant as the film and the actors were serviceable in the role but failed to make any real impact. On the contrary, Shannon Cochran who played Fräulein Schneider and Mark Nelson who played Herr Schulz shone in their story of an autumnal love affair doomed by the rise of the Third Reich.
Mark Nelson as Herr Schultz and Shannon Cochran as Fraulein Schneider in the 2016 National Tour of Roundabout Theatre Company’s CABARET – Photo by Joan Marcus.
And then, of course, there’s the music. The score by Kander and Ebb is unforgettable. Not only is there “Wilkommen” but there’s “Mein Herr”and “Money” and “Maybe This Time” and, of course, “Cabaret.” Most of the numbers were fantastic with a couple of exceptions. I already mentioned my disappointment with “Wilkommen” but there was also “Maybe This Time.” This is my favorite song from the show and it just didn’t deliver. In the right hands it’s a real showstopper but on this particular night it just fell flat.
Overall, I really enjoyed my night at the Cabaret. It was an engaging production that kept me entertained the whole night. I’ve been humming the killer soundtrack ever since and cant’ wait until my next night at the theatre!
Cabaret continues it’s run at Segerstrom until August 21.