Generic theater spices up Downstage in Cabaret

This weekend, Lisner Downstage will be transformed into a cabaret. Patrons, seated under the glow of lurid red lights, will be invited upstairs by any one of the women – or men – who dance at the club. Other girls with hardly a piece of cloth on them will offer to sell candy, or more. Dancers treat each other with a familiarity that would make Hugh Heffner blush. And this is all before the show begins.

Cabaret, Generic Theater Company’s newest production, gives a view of pre-World War II Berlin through the perspective of a small circle of people, both citizens and foreigners. Newly arrived American Cliff Bradshaw comes to Berlin to work on his novel, but instead finds himself wrapped up in the fast-paced lifestyle of cabaret singer Sally Bowles and the golden-age romance between his landlady Fraulein Schneider and a local fruit seller, Herr Schultz. The basic story is interspersed and enlivened by songs from Kit-Kat Klub cabaret, led by its charming yet macabre master of ceremonies, who provides both comic relief and social commentary.

With very little space to call a stage, and even fewer props, detachment from the audience is not an option for the actors. Choreography by director Frannie Rosenberg has turned the entire room into a dance floor, and strong dance numbers support the weight of this show. Certain pieces help to create a clear mood, particularly during the party scene, as the casual dance becomes disturbingly menacing and things begin to turn ugly.

Cabaret benefits from a talented ensemble cast, as some of the minor characters display a complete grasp of the German language and accent. Their devotion to remaining in character and their contributions to the dances makes them indispensable. The relationship between Frauline Schneider and Herr Schultz is both endearing and comedic, thanks to the charms of Jenny Towns and Austin Myerson. Alicia Trider, as Sally Bowles, puts in a spirited performance, as does Jeremy Sykes, playing the part of the bedazzled American Cliff Bradshaw.

The master of ceremonies, played by David Brown, is an exhilarating asset to the show from the start. Acting simultaneously as near-narrator and the critical observer, he has a comment on everything that happens in the show. With an impish grin and mocking tone, he delivers every bawdy comment with the satyr-like vivacity needed to successfully personify the emcee.

Costumes and make-up deserve their own round of applause. They combine the traditional tart (garters) with elements of the modern fantasies (fishnets). Fans of the Catholic schoolgirl look should come prepared to restrain themselves.

Audience members who have never seen Cabaret before may be shocked by how raunchy certain songs, such as the uproarious Two Ladies, can get. Repeat viewers may enjoy the show simply for that reason. A member of Generic Theatre technical crew who had not been forewarned described it as the most pornographic musical I’ve ever seen. But Cabaret is more complex than that, dealing out lowbrow humor and serious drama all in one fell swoop – without letting one take away from the other. Cabaret is the right blend of ingredients, and, to borrow a quote from the emcee, I like it!

Cabaret is currently playing at Lisner Downstage. Tickets are free for students and $5 for the general public.

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