ARTSMONDAY: ‘Cabaret’ Turns in Mediocre Showing

It’s hard not to like a show as tawdry and touching as “Cabaret.” After all, where else can you get scantily-clad men and women, lascivious dancing, and Fascism all rolled up into about two hours, save for perhaps at some oddly-themed strip club?

Unfortunately, the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s (HRDC) presentation of the former Broadway sensation fell short of its potential, leaving this reviewer emotionally—and physically—flaccid.

“Cabaret,” co-directed by Patrick H. Quinn ’10 and Juan D. Camero ’10 and produced by Julia K. Lindpaintner ’09, is set during the rise of Fascism in pre-World War II Germany.

The story depicts an American novelist, Clifford Bradshaw (Zachary B.S. Sniderman ’09), and his doomed love affair with Sally Bowles, one of the main dancers at Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub, where the party never stops and the women wear as little as possible. Most of the first act takes place here, but a concurrent subplot involves an equally doomed love affair between Bradshaw’s landlord Fräulein Schneider, played by Carolyn A. McCandlish ’07, and her tenant, Herr Schultz (Quincy Ellis).

As the plot moves along, the realities of German life outside the Kit Kat Klub become more apparent, and the second act is accordingly much grimmer. Aspiring politician Ernst Ludwig (Daniel V. Kroop ’10) becomes the face of the growing Nazi party; as he rises, both the relationships that developed in the first act fall apart.

The cast was fairly strong, and all the singing was up to par. Katie Mulholland gave a stellar performance in the lead role of Sally Bowles. Her voice was consistently impressive, and really shined in the songs “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret.” Amy M. Zelcer ’07 also showed off her musical talents in the supporting role of Fräulein Kost, particularly in the reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.”

Bobby (Nicholas A. Noyer ’09), a male dancer at the cabaret and part-time thug working for Ludwig, was perhaps my favorite character. Noyer made this role his own, and deserves high praise for the result. Although he was no small man, Noyer pranced about the stage like a graceful fawn, and was the highlight of the song “Two Ladies”—and just about every other scene he was in.

The cast’s biggest limitation was that they lacked the enthusiasm required to hold the audience for the duration of the show. Sniderman was at times emotionally flat, and while Thomas A. Dichter ’08 was often entertaining as the Emcee, he occasionally broke character, such as in the songs “If You Could See Her” and “Two Ladies.” The cast hit all the big numbers, and did them well, but there were times when they lacked energy—and it came across.

Other aspects of the production were very strong. The reprise of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” led by Zelcer, was extremely moving. It was well lit, well blocked, and well sung, and it made me want to come back and see the second act.

The creative use of the fairly small Loeb Experimental Theatre by set designer Ethan A. Davis ’10 was also impressive. Tables and chairs lined the sides of the room, creating the feeling of actually being at the cabaret. The action took place on a variety of levels, from the floor just in front of the audience to a tier at the back of the stage, and this variety added to the play’s effect.

Yet despite a set that invited the audience in, directors missed the opportunity to have meaningful interaction between the cast and playgoers. One might expect the women to entice audience members as if they were real cabaret dancers; unfortunately, nothing of the sort went on, and the dancers went about their blocking and dancing as if the audience wasn’t there—one disappointing facet of the otherwise solid directing.

The HRDC’s production of “Cabaret” had the potential to be great, but it never quite got off the ground. There were moments, such as at the end of the first act, when it seemed like it would—but that potential dissipated as the show wore on. And wear on it did, causing some of the audience to skip the second act altogether. Despite the many merits of the show and its actors, after the emotion abated from the touching last scene, I was left with nothing but the empty feeling of mediocrity by which to remember it.

—Reviewer Joshua J. Kearney can be reached at kearney@fas.harvard.edu.