Strong production at Littleton Town Hall still leaves a few character gaps

Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center production of “Cabaret” is at times sexy, fun and irreverent. But a darker thread runs throughout, dancing just out of sight throughout many of the devil-may-care antics of the first act and coming fully to light in the thankfully much shorter second act. I say ‘thankfully’ not because it’s poorly done – it’s anything but that – but because 30 minutes of somber reality is probably enough for the audience.

It’s also enough to make most people consider, what would you do in similar circumstances? A question that appears not to have lost its relevance today.

In times of political angst – as in late 1920s/early 1930s Berlin during the rise of Hitler, the setting for Cabaret – everyone reacts. Whether it’s ignoring the bigger picture and moving blithely forward, taking action, morosely dwelling on it, or turning protectively inward, everyone chooses a reaction.

The story plays out in Berlin’s fictional Kit Kat Klub and a nearby boarding house.

It follows two primary relationships: Visiting American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Archie Archuleta) and the club’s headliner Sally Bowles (Lynzee Lee Jones) — and boarding-house owner Fräulein Schneider (Annie Dwyer) and her Jewish suitor Herr Schultz (Tom Mullin).

The Klub’s Master of Ceremonies (Nick Sugar) acts as a bawdy commentator throughout the production.

The Town Hall Arts Center has built a solid reputation on its quality productions, and this adds another notch to that very large belt.

Disturbing tones

Sugar’s opening number “Wilkommen” sets the celebratory, but slightly disturbing tone – what happens inside the club goes on irrespective of anything outside its walls. “In here, life is beautiful …” he sings, introducing the audience to a bevy of beautiful women who appear well-rehearsed, but world weary and deeply cynical. The song touts the Kit Kat Klub as a no-holds-barred nightly party – as though the louder and more frenetic they can make the festivities there, the more completely they can drown out the reality outside its doors.

While the opener sets the right basic tone, the opening-night volume seemed low. This number should be in in your face, and anything but subtle. While Sugar is a powerful performer – and also director and choreographer of Cabaret – and plays well the part of a sexual chameleon throughout – the opener lacked the power it seems to require.

Additionally, while the original story focuses primarily on Sally – the freshest face and greatest talent among the entertainers – and her relationship with Cliff, I found the story of Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz much more compelling. And also more believable.

While I may be among the few who never saw the original Cabaret, I just couldn’t buy the relationship between Sally and Cliff. She was too over-the-top and cynical to the point of near bitterness. Even in the final scenes, it was hard to feel compassion for her. Cliff meanwhile was sensitive, sexually confused and a deep thinker. The contrast between them, at least in this production, is too stark, rendering them an unbelievable couple for anything much more than a one-night stand.

The elderly couple share a sweetness and warmth that feels genuine. Their flirtation is nicely tinged with the delight of getting another chance at love relatively late in life, deepening the audience’s affection for them. The sweetest number of the musical occurs when fruit seller Schultz brings her a pineapple. The two sing “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” a song laced with lines both suggestive and funny. When Schneider asks, “Would you like a slice?” he replies, “That might be nice, but frankly it would give me gas.”

As attached as we become to this couple, we’re saddened when Schneider, frightened by the anti-Semitic vibrations spreading throughout Germany, backs away from the relationship. She sings about her decision in the haunting, “What Would You Do?”

The much longer first act ends by foreshadowing the second, when we learn that Cliff’s German friend Ernst Ludwig – convincingly played by Matt LaFontaine – is a member of the Nazi Party.

Reality comes crashing through the Kit Kat Klub’s doors in the second act, though Sally and her entourage try valiantly – and shockingly – to ignore it. While we may be stunned by Sally’s actions, the “Cabaret” of 2019 could also be taken as a suggestion to consider our own.

As Sugar writes in the director’s notes, “Cabaret’s heartfelt and powerful message is still relevant to the unrest that is happening outside our own modern-day train windows.” It also represents a wish from Sugar to transform the cruelty of our world “into kindness, compassion and love for one another.”

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Photos: Becky Toma and Allen Jimenez