Cabaret – Arden Theatre Company

Charissa Hogeland as Sally Bowles. Photo by Mark Gavin.
By Amanda VanNostrand.

“…There was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany … and it was the end of the world.” –Clifford Bradshaw

Cabaret. What comes to mind when you hear the word? Half-naked women? Perverted men? Frivolity? Understandable. The truth, however, is so much more. Cabaret is presented by Arden Theatre Company between now and October 22nd. Nothing about this show is less than perfect. Imagine the most talented people performing the most beautifully written, and heart-wrenching story, and there you have it: Cabaret. Those who attend the show will not be disappointed, and may quite possibly purchase a second ticket (in addition to a third, fourth, and fifth ticket for some people in their lives) on their way out. It is that good.

Before attending or reading about this gem of a show, here’s a bit of relevant history for you: at the close of World War I, the Weimar Republic came to power in Berlin, Germany. The area became a ‘cultural mecca’, according to Matthew Decker, the director of our show. Acceptance became the way of Berlin. While homosexuality was punishable in most of Germany, Berlin was a place where gay and lesbian bars popped up, and cabarets and dance halls were frequented. Berlin was a place where people who were cast aside found acceptance and belonging. This is where our show takes place: Berlin, 1933. And the time for an election is quietly approaching.

Upon walking into the Arden, audience members immediately feel the ambiance of the Kit-Kat Klub. David P. Gorden’s (Scenic Design) work was an absolute success. The stage is lined with smooth red curtains and is surrounded by large, round yellow-gold lights. (Think Moulin Rouge!) From the small tables bordering the stage to the actors and actresses walking through the seats, and sitting on the laps of lucky audience members you will experience an unique introduction to the show, to say the very least. If you are lucky like this reviewer, you will have the privilege of ‘kicking’ Rosie (Lauren Williams) out of your very seat, and will engage in flirtatious conversation with Fritzie (Suli Holum) before she sits on the lap of the man behind you. What an experience.

After the fun of finding your seat, the show is opened by the Emcee, perfectly played by John Jarboe. Jarboe performs his words, songs and dance with exquisite talent from the very first to the very last second. He is extraordinary, and is the cherry on top of this exquisite show. We then meet some more characters: Clifford Bradshaw (Daniel Fredrick), an American writer on the train to Berlin; Cliff’s friend Ernst (Christopher Patrick Mullen), whom Cliff meets on the train; Fräuline Schneider (Mary Elizabeth Scallen), our sweet, romantic keeper of the boardinghouse; Herr Schultz (Kenny Morris), a Jewish man who sells fruit and holds a fondness for Fräuline Schneider; Sally Bowles (Charissa Hogeland), a lost, naïve British singer from the Kit Kat Klub. As we learn more about the politics of Germany and the (often concealed) backstories of these complex characters, their accounts mesh together into one big, sad, and beautiful tale. And by the end of the show, Nazis make their presence known; one by one they slowly and discreetly reveal themselves. You may feel nauseated and dismayed at the sight of swastikas on arms belonging to those whom are taking down beautiful people whose ‘wrongdoing’ is being homosexual. A powerful message spoken toward the end is, “if you’re not against all this, you’re for it, or you might as well be.”

Throughout this musical audiences will hear the voices of these actors and actresses as they sing songs (music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb) that are at once amusing, patriotic, disturbing, and lovely. The soundtrack to this show is one that you can put on repeat without ever growing tired. One unforgettable singer is Charissa Hogeland. She sings the famous “Cabaret” (“Life is a Cabaret, old chum!”), and “Don’t Tell Mama” as Sally, along with the other Kit Kat Girls. Her voice is strong, striking, and simply seamless. John Jarboe’s singing as the Emcee is pristine as well. The blend of these two voices and the rest of the cast’s creates perfection out of this score.

Cabaret is a show that would benefit every mind and every perspective. Anyone hesitant about seeing it because sex offends them should go see this show anyway. By the end you will be so struck by the message, and the story laced between the sexual tones, that the aspect of sex in this show will almost be irrelevant (while somehow simultaneously being much of the main point). This show and its message are alarming and beyond essential to everyone at this point in time: History; Nazis; Fascism; Stereotypes; Power. Go see it.

Running time: approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes including intermission.
Advisory: partial nudity, sexual content
Cabaret will be playing at the Arden Theatre Company (40 N. 2nd Street Philadelphia, PA 19106) until October 22, 2017. For tickets call the box office at (215) 922-1122 or click here.