Opera News Online: Review of…Cabaret

ATLANTA Atlanta Opera 6/12/22

IN EARLY JUNE, the Atlanta Opera offered Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret at the Pullman Yards—a cavernous, un-airconditioned 1904 industrial building that lies just southeast of downtown Atlanta at the edge of historic Candler Park (seen June 12).  The show was part of AO’s Discoveries Series, an initiative to bring new audiences to unconventional spaces and a departure from the traditional “ivory tower” of the opera house.  Cabaret is definitely not an opera: it’s a Broadway musical about a young aspiring writer from America, Clifford Bradshaw, who arrives in Berlin on New Year’s Eve 1929, during the final years of the Weimar Republic.  AO artistic and general director Tomer Zvulun gathered an edgy ensemble of singers, dancers, and jazz musicians, giving a compelling rendition of a show that’s eerily relevant today.  Atlanta’s show made this amalgamation of flashy show tunes, mundane romance unraveled and unremarkable dialogue a commentary on otherness and acceptance.

The production opened with Kit Kat Club Emcee Curt Olds kneeling down to crank an old Victrola, kicking off the rousing number, “Wilkommen.” Olds, who made his AO debut in 2016 as the Pirate King, is a triple-threat dynamo.  As the ringmaster of a bizarre nightclub, the magnetic Olds anchored this Cabaret with fancy footwork and a compelling sense of mischief. Costume designer Erik Teague, who designed Threepenny Opera for AO last year, demonstrated genius-level creativity with bizarre getups for the Emcee and with his clothes for the ever-gyrating, sexualized ensemble of dancers, who were bedecked in colorful lingerie, fishnet stockings, and combat boots.  Wig and makeup designer Melanie Steele used her talent to transform every face into a tawdry caricature. Lighting by designer Marcella Barbeau underscored the harsh, murky nightlife of Berlin, punctuated by projections by Nick Chimienti that flanked each side of the stage.

Conductor Francesco Milioto paced the small band upstage, immersed in the onstage action.  Sound balance in the immense space was inconsistent despite best efforts and the amplification of singers.  Glamorous Aja Goes was Sally Bowles, her low notes obscured in “Maybe this time,” but her upper belt range sounding quite spectacular. Bowles’s bisexual lover, Cliff, was performed at the June 12 performance by understudy Lawson Lewallen, who captured the idealistic boy next door exploring the ecstasy of his youth.  Mezzo-soprano Joyce Campana was lovely as Fräulein Schneider, her pineapple duet with tenor Anthony Laciura, “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” spot-on and sweetly sung.  

Actress extraordinaire Deborah Bowman played Fräulein Kost, Schneider’s eccentric boarder with a passion for sailors.  Kost’s harshly placed voice and self-possessed rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” effectively paved the way for actor Lee Osorio, who played Nazi Ernst Ludwig with gravitas.  Together the two were the catalyst that transformed this show from fun-loving to foreboding.  The story slowly morphed and took its final dreaded turn when Emcee Olds, the one who told us to leave our troubles outside the theatre, came forward.  Removing his coat, Olds exposed not swanky scanties, but the striped uniform of a concentration camp prisoner, leaving the audience in an uneasy silence before blackout. —Stephanie Adrian

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