Stageworks Toronto brings sexy raunch to the George Ignatieff Theatre in Cabaret
Stageworks Toronto‘s fascinating current production of Cabaret — playing at the George Ignatieff Theatre until July 26 — explores the seedy underbelly of sex, politics, and the death of the Jazz Age in Germany on the cusp of the rise of the Nazi’s political power.
Although it is less inclined towards spectacle, this Stageworks production is more successful at illuminating the darkness in Kander and Ebb‘s classic musical than any other production I’ve seen – including the critically acclaimed Roundabout Theatre Company revival(s) with Alan Cumming.
The thing that has been emphasized in the social media campaign for Stageworks‘ Cabaret is their uninhibited representation of the play’s setting: a burlesque house called The Kit Kat Club. It’s true that there are only a handful of actors that you don’t see in some state of undress over the course of the show and Stageworks seems to be eager to cash in on the titillation that might cause.
By the end of the first act, however, I found the nudity to be a little exploitative. There were several moments where only one actress was topless in a group number and I couldn’t figure out what that added to the production.
It wasn’t until the play’s haunting final tableau — the details of which I won’t spoil for you — that I felt the powerful effect of setting up this expectation of exploitative nudity. I will say that that moment justifies every moment of discomfort I might have felt.
What you might not expect from a production of Cabaret if you aren’t really familiar with the play is a really complex exploration of the politics of Germany on the cusp of Nazi rule. Part of the way that Stageworks‘ production characterizes the play’s main characters Sally Bowles and Cliff Bradshaw makes Cabaret‘s political messages more clear than I have seen elsewhere.
In this production, Sally (played by a wonderful Shai Tannyan) comes across as a vapid, social-climbing, fame obsessed party girl along the same lines as F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. Her willful ignorance of the looming Nazi regime and her desperate desire to cling to the fantasy world of the cabaret make her fascinating and frustrating to watch on stage.
I caught a moment of rather brilliant acting from Tannyan in Fraulein Schneider’s song “What Would You Do” where I could see in her eyes the moment her Sally identifies the same morally ambiguous desire for self-preservation that her landlady is singing about in herself. That moment, insignificant as it might seem to be, informs her really stunning, emotional performance of the show’s title song.
In contrast, Cliff is played as the well-informed moral compass in the unsavoury world of the play. Hugh Ritchie plays Cliff as an earnest and insightful with a bit of a saviour complex. This complex and his charm make him totally believable as Sally’s lover, even if his Cliff is also sufficiently gay to make the most passionate, romantic moment of the night a kiss between Cliff and Bobby early in Act I.
No review of Cabaret would be complete without talking about the actor playing the Emcee, and Jean-Paul Parker gives a performance that is well worth discussing. He’s very funny when he plays the Emcee as a vaudevillian clown in Act I and he’s biting and viscous when the comedy gets dark in Act II.
If you’re going to the show expecting big vocal performances and strong, tightly choreographed numbers, you might be a little disappointed. This production favours rawness and messiness in its pursuit of truth telling. That’s not to say that the vocals and choreography are unimpressive – because they absolutely are impressive – they’re just also stylized and under-polished in a way that might not be enough for some people.
That being said, the kinds of creative risks taken in the making of this Stageworks production of Cabaret worked really well for me and I whole-heartedly endorse this performance. Go see it if you can!
- Cabaret is playing until July 26 at The George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place)
- Shows run Wednesday to Sunday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm
- Ticket are $25 and are available online, or through the box office at 416-803-5287
- Please be advised that there is gratuitous nudity throughout the performance.
Photo of Kit Kat Club Boys and Girls by Michael Yaneff.