Ottawa Event Review: Cabaret – a Suzart After-Dark Production

Last night, I had the opportunity to see Cabaret, the most recent production from Suzart After Dark, in the studio at Meridian Theatres at Centrepointe. I haven’t ever seen Cabaret, live or in film, and so I went into this experience with very limited knowledge of the storyline, and no real expectations about the performance in general. I was pleasantly surprised! Cabaret is one of the most poignant, albeit dark musical theatre productions that I have ever seen. Set in Berlin in the 1930’s during the rise of the Nazi party, Cabaret offers a blunt expose of the growing anti-Semitism of the times, and the frightening impact that it had on those living in Germany. I have become so accustomed to musical theatre that is lighthearted, with a friendly tone, offering a simple lesson in morality (at best!), that this was a surprising, yet welcome change. The shift from the lighthearted tone at the start of the show to the darker tone during the number, Tomorrow Belongs to Me was palpable, and certainly made an impact. To say that I loved Cabaret would be an understatement!

The show was directed by Kraig-Paul Proulx, whose work I love every time I see it. He’s a creative genius, and that really shows in Cabaret. It seems that he can do it all: from directing, to hair and makeup, to set and costume design, to hospitality, and this jack-of-all-trades, master of ALL never fails to impress. This show had an apprentice director, Anna McCready, who also produced. For those of you who may not know, producing a show is a massive undertaking, but McCready must have done everything right, given the professional quality of Cabaret!

Let’s dive right in to the best elements of the show! To start, the music was incredible. Under the direction of Musical Director Alex Soloway, the orchestra was absolutely flawless. I can honestly say that this orchestra was the best that I have experienced in Ottawa theatre, ever. If you read the bio of Soloway in the program, this should come as no surprise, as he is one talented musician! I should also mention here the strong vocals of the cast, whose German pronunciation during the songs was remarkable, which I am sure Mr. Soloway is to credit for as well. In other shows that I have seen, the music has overpowered the voices of the cast, but this was not the case here. The orchestra was perfectly complimentary during every song. A nice touch was what they were wearing…. “even the orchestra….is beautiful!” has never rung more true!

I mentioned the German pronunciation already, but I should also mention the accents….I cannot imagine that maintaining a British or a German accent throughout an entire show is easy, but this cast really pulled it off, and I am glad that accents were incorporated into this show, it certainly would not have been as authentic without them!

The minimalistic set design for this show really impressed me. I love when a set is simple, with only the most essential elements, allowing it to set the scene, but not steal the scene, from the cast. This was accomplished, thanks to the set design of Kraig-Paul Proulx and Brittany Jager. The audience seemed to be shocked at the sudden appearance of giant Nazi banners across the back of the stage; it was elements like that which really highlighted what it must have been like to live in Germany in the 30’s.

Costumes for Cabaret were some of the most creative that I have seen!  Designers Kraig-Paul Proulx, Ginny Steele, and Dee Staigh maintained the period trend, and this really enhanced the show for me. During the song, Tomorrow Belongs to Me, you could really see this! On the other end of the spectrum, the costumes of the Kit Kat Club members were expectedly racy, which offered a lot of entertainment value! The audience seemed to get a kick out of some of the more ‘indelicate’ ones, like the costumes for Two Ladies.

The makeup further enhanced the looks in this show; it was very impressive. Designer Dalene Gallo perfectly captured the essence of 1930’s performance makeup. In particular, the makeup of the Emcee (Ryan Pedersen) and the Kit Kat Club girls was striking.

I know what you may be thinking: “no show is THAT good, surely there were things that weren’t perfect?” And yes, there were elements that were not perfect. There seemed to be a few glitches in the first half of the show with the lighting, but it seemed to remedy itself before the second act. Next, a few of the cast members were clearly sick, which isn’t ideal for them, but they persevered, and  I don’t feel as though it affected the quality of the show itself. Finally, the execution of the (fantastic!) choreography was lacking in some scenes. I am not sure if it was that some of the moves were too technical for some of the cast, or that perhaps they just made mistakes, but there were a number of noticeable errors in the dancing. (I should mention that the choreography itself was quite impressive, the work of Shreyas Batra, Meg Sutton, and Lynn McDonald). However, I mention these things not to criticize, but simply in the interest of having a complete, honest review. And now, on to the STANDOUT PERFORMANCES!

Standout Performances:

Without a doubt, the show was stolen by Ryan Pedersen as the Emcee. Pedersen had the audience laughing from his opening lines, and he captured the attention of the crowd from start to end. Throughout the show, I found myself watching him in each scene he was in. Everything from his facial expressions, to his movement, to his voice, embodied the quirky character of the Emcee. In addition to being a strong singer, actor, and dancer, Pedersen is 100% an entertainer, interacting with the audience throughout the entire performance. I have to say that in all of the shows that I have seen and reviewed, Pedersen in this role was the very best that I have seen. Ever. I could go on and on, but really, you just need to get out there and see him for yourself!

Fraulein Schneider, played by Laura Jane Nikolakakos, was another favourite. Nikolakakos brought so much depth and emotion to this role, the audience couldn’t help but love her! She has an absolutely stunning voice, and I had chills a number of times during her songs. Exceptional!

Fraulein Kost, played by Lynne Hamilton, also stood out. Hamilton has great comedic timing, and her voice is flawless. I really enjoyed her performance.

Herr Schultz (Fenton Ho) was a surprising standout performance for me. I wouldn’t say that this character is a lead, per se, or that it was his singing or his dancing that made such an impression. But the impact that Ho left on the audience with this character was perceptible. I felt myself tearing up during his scenes towards the end of the show, and even today, I can’t stop thinking about the character, and the millions of Jewish people that he represents. It’s interesting: sometimes it isn’t the flashiness or eccentricity of a performance that sticks with you, but the emotion that you feel watching it. Ho brought that emotion in droves to this role, and his performance will stick with me for a long time.

Finally, the character of Clifford Bradshaw, played by Joseph Stone, was exceptionally well done. I loved the sensitivity that Stone brought to this character.

I haven’t ever done a category of Extraordinary Moments in a review before, but I do feel as though Cabaret warrants this. There were a few scenes in this show that just wowed me, particularly the songs Tomorrow Belongs to Me and If You Could See Her, and the final scene with the Emcee. I don’t want to give too much of the show away, but these moments really touched me, and from the reactions of the audience, they touched everyone else as well.

Sadly, Cabaret is almost finished its run! But tickets are on sale right now for an incredible deal: BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE! That’s 2 for the cost of 1! And it is a steal considering the quality of this show! You can find tickets still available by clicking here!

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