Live theater is special! That is something that all of us must agree on. Each and every production is unique in that it takes place now! Often, I hear audience members compare a show to a movie version or the original show or in the case of a “classic”, perhaps the original Broadway production. The fact is that each production team under the leadership of its director brings something a little different to the production. In the case of Marriott Theatre, because it is “in the round”, some shows are more difficult to bring to life. It is almost impossible to recreate a “Fosse” dance number on the much smaller stage without blocking the vision of some of the audience members, but in the new production of the classic “Cabaret”, David H. Bell and his Choreographer Matt Raftery have used the stage in a uniquely different way. These men know this stage and its limitations, having been associated with it for many years. In fact, most of us have watched Raftery “grow up” in Lincolnshire.
That being said, “Cabaret” is a unique musical in that it truly is a story with some great music ( John Kander) and powerful lyrics ( Fred Ebb), featuring the title song ( that most of us remember done by Liza) and others such as “I Don’t Care Much”, “If You Could See Her”, “Married” ( a lovely rendition in this production handled to sheer perfection by Annabel Armour and Craig Spidle), “Maybe This Time” and ”Money”. The story takes place in a dark period of history, Berlin is a wild place to visit and live, but Hitler and his political party are planning to change its direction. So the question has always been “how can one walk out of this play feeling good?”.
What makes us “feel good” is the energy of the actors/singers/dancers retelling us this story as we must “always remember” so it can never happen again. And this high energy cast truly makes the story stick with us as we ride the emotional roller coaster that the story takes us on. The story is about a young American, who wants to be a writer, going to decadent Berlin to become “inspired”. Clifford ( Patrick Sarb) meets a lot of people and experiences many new styles of life and as the “curtain closes” ( which of course is a saying at Marriott- they have no curtain) he is the one telling us the story.
The characters he meets are mostly Germans including one Sally Bowles ( a glorious interpretation by the adorable Megan Sikora (a newcomer to the Marriott stage) who brings a certain “real” flavor to the role. We also meet those who attend The Kit Kat Klub and of course “The Emcee”. This is a role that is associated with Joel Gray and a character that brings us all together. Stephen Schellhardt, a familiar face at Marriott ( among other local theaters) brings his own flavor and flair to this role, never trying to imitate those who played the role before. In his interpretation of the Emcee we get to hear him sing and dance as he “narrates” our trip through Berlin. It is a vibrant trip with Stephen and one worth watching.
Other standouts in this cast are Christine Sherrill ( who proves that even a secondary role is important to the total production), Jameson Cooper and the ensemble members, Holly Becker, Brian Bohr, Adam Estes, Chadae Nichol, Alexandra Palkovic, Liam Quealy, Sam Rogers, Holly Stander, Jonny Stein, Brandi Wooton, Melissa Zaremba and Bernie Yvon.
Being a theater in the round, one cannot really create a set, but the Marriott designer Thomas M. Ryan always makes the stage look different, and with its second tier of balconies ( are they real or dummies), and mood lighting (Diane Ferry Williams) and the amazing costumes by Nancy Missimi, we get another solid production in Lincolnshire. There was a recent production of this musical in Evanston that many feel may have set a new standard, but as I said earlier, the imagination and re-imagination of the director is what brings the show to life and while this is a smaller stage with no boundaries, Bell and Raftery have created a production that is well worth the trip to Lincolnshire and on a cold ( very cold) night in winter, walk out feeling a warmth inside.