Good times meet grim ones in ‘Cabaret’
BY CATEY SULLIVAN For Sun-Times Media January 10, 2014 11:42AM
David Bell directs "Cabaret" at Marriott Lincolnshire.
Jan. 15-March 16
Marriott Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott Drive
(847) 634-0200; www.marriotttheatre.com
Willkommen to the cabaret, a world where you are urged to embrace all that’s forbidden. “It’s an exciting, dangerous, utterly seductive place,” says director David H. Bell of the titular locale in Marriott Lincolnshire’s production of “Cabaret,” opening Jan. 15.
Set in Berlin in 1929, the piece centers on Clifford Bradshaw (Patrick Sarb), a bisexual American writer who travels to Germany and finds himself wholly seduced by the frenzied pleasures of the city’s hedonistic cabaret scene. Inside the cabaret, “everything is beautiful,” according to the mesmerizing catchphrase of the club’s Emcee (Winnetka native Stephen Schellhardt). Outside the Kit Kat Klub? Evil encroaches as the Nazis rise to power.
Based on the autobiographical writings of Christopher Isherwood, “Cabaret” is a gripping story of a blindly ecstatic community gleefully fulfilling its every whim while ignoring the looming specters of world war, genocide and death camps. “For those who sit by and just observe while people die, while wars are declared, while governments roll over rights, while evil comes to power — this show is for them,” says Bell.
That’s not to say that “Cabaret” is a grim exercise in moralizing. The show is rich with wicked wit and garishly beautiful show-stoppers, including the irresistible title tune, the soaring ballad “Maybe This Time,” and the deliciously naughty “Don’t Tell Mama.”
For choreographer Matt Raftery, capturing the show’s deeply erotic aesthetic without turning it into a prurient exercise means dancing a tightrope between carnality and crassness.
“Certainly there’s a strong sexual voice in the club — this is where people go to be titillated,” says Raftery. “But there’s also sort of this winking properness — it’s all about the intrigue and the mystery of sex, not the vulgarity of it.”
As the Emcee, Schellhardt is responsible for luring the audience into that world. The 2002 New Trier grad is also charged with breaking the fourth wall on occasion and making the audience complicit as the characters on stage blithely ignore the wolves pounding at the door. One song in particular — “A Girl Like Her (The Gorilla Song)” — captures the wanton ecstasy of the cabaret while confronting the audience with the reality of a country where genocide will soon be a matter of public policy.
“You’re totally enjoying the shtick, laughing your head off,” says Schellhardt of the number, “and then, out of nowhere, comes this lyric that’s absolutely toxic. It’s a moment when the play turns pitch black — the outside comes inside, the doors lock, and you’re forced to face what’s about to happen.”
Still, “Cabaret” is ultimately a profoundly hopeful show. Cliff, initially seduced by the relentless good times of the Berlin nightlife and the comely chorus girl Sally Bowles (Megan Sikora), eventually has his eyes opened. “And he survives to tell the story,” Bells says.