Kander and Ebb's musical "Cabaret" is visiting the IU Auditorium. "Cabaret" is meant to shock, disgust and delight audiences. Frankly, shock is getting harder and harder to accomplish these days and despite real effort, the production didn't succeed often. However, it did produce a good number of squalidly intriguing moments and there was a fair amount of theatrical delight as well.
"Cabaret" tells two love stories against the backdrop Weimar decadence and the rise of the Nazis in Berlin in the 1930s. There's a young couple: American writer, Cliff played with sensitivity by John Holley, and the free spirited English show girl, Sally Bowles sung and acted with great and yet fragile brio by Allison Spratt. And there's an older couple (figures of tender dignity): Cliff's landlady Fraulein Schneider, Lucy Sorlucco, and the Jewish fruit merchant, Herr Schultz, P. Brendan Mulvey. In both cases, love is strong, but not strong enough for their personalities and the times.
The key to any production of "Cabaret' is the onstage host, the androgynously welcoming Emcee. The production at the Auditorium has a very good one in Christopher Sloan. The Emcee looked like a character out of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," and he could both provoke and charm the audience. Sloan has a lovely voice though it's not surprising in a show like this that it found its best opportunity in a love song to a Gorilla.
In this production of "Cabaret" the Kit Kat club Girls and Boys are all part of the very accomplished orchestra for the show. In the same scene you might see a group of character switch from grossly simulated sex to a rather sophisticated and quite real jazzy orchestral number. Casting must have been a real challenge.
"Cabaret" even in its current roughed up form is mainly a moral tale. Cliff with his American innocence and Sally with her brittle British drollery are initially seduced by the wild abandon of Berlin. As the growing threat of Naziism is dramatized, Cliff is cautioned and flees back to America. The magnetic Sally lacks his intelligence and his core values and despite or because of the dark attraction of the looming tragedy, stays. The show continues to offer entertainment along with its lessons.
Kander and Ebb's "Cabaret" has its final performance this evening at the IU Auditorium at eight.