Musicals are often brushed off as fluffy escapism, and yet the most-enduring ones—from Puccini’s popular operas to Sondheim’s Into The Woods—are about celebrating the frivolity and freedom of youth. That is, until the dread sets in. Cabaret is within this canon and the script is as germane with its politics and rhetoric as it was 44 years ago at its Broadway premiere.
From Broadway to Barboursville: With Gary White (left, as Clifford Bradshaw), Dan Stern (Emcee) and Steph Finn (Sally Bowles), Four County Players’ Cabaret resonates with audiences almost a half century after its premiere.
Cabaret is a brave choice for Four County Players. It’s the kind of musical that must be done with the pedal to the floor if it is to be done at all. There are challenging themes flying in from all directions: gender, abortion, totalitarianism, genocide, fear. The legendary Emcee (Dan Stern), is shirtless and glittery. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider, seeing someone who is truly free can be scary for a lot of people.
All is well, mostly, in Berlin when we meet the Emcee’s team of alluring burlesque dancers and their patrons. American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Gary White) has arrived in the city to do some writing when he crosses paths with saucy bohemian Sally Bowles (Steph Finn), who is busy sleeping on floors and dancing at the Kit-Kat Club. Middle-aged concierge Fraulein Schneider (Linda Zuby) and Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (Francis Deane) find that they are silly in love. The girls want to be with the girls and it’s all dandy.
Then we see the armband and it strikes us like a gunshot. The clockwork approaches and it terrifies.
This is a stunning production for Four County Players. Director Christopher N. Spangler has an all-star team of collaborators. Stern works well as the iconic Emcee and he could go higher still, swinging for the fences. It’s always a pleasure to see Gary White and Steph Finn on stage and they both own their roles here. Deane and Zuby (who, by day, is on staff at C-VILLE) are so good at being cute that, when the tide turns, we are all the more struck at how they can also be so haunting.
Locally, anything musical director Greg Harris touches is gold, so what luck to have his talents employed here. Scenic designers rarely get applause, but our introduction to Dan Hager’s tableau is impressive. Costume designer Amy Goffman plays things subtly and effectively. The live band is reliable and clear.
At times, it seemed as though the cast was holding back a little; as if they were feeling out whether or not all of the burlesque teasing and the homoerotic butch/femme toying was really working for the rural town of Barboursville. If the sold-out run is any indication, the spectators are certainly all on board. Go for broke with that freak flag, cast.