Cabaret turns 50 this year, making it an advantageous time to revisit it—not to mention how its theme, impending political doom, sums up 2016. Actors Theatre of Indiana scales down the staging a bit for this production in its black-box studio located inside in the Carmel Performing Arts Center.
Directed by Billy Kimmel, the production gives the audience pretty much what it’s expecting: leather and lace, commentary on societal expectations, and the inevitability of catastrophe, all imbedded in well-known musical numbers.
Ben Asaykwee takes on the iconic role of the Emcee, whom he plays as less of a slightly disturbing pansexual and more as an escaped mental patient. His wild eyes seem to have been given the Clockwork Orange treatment. That aside, he performs admirably in both narrative and song, most often with his Kit Kat girls and boys: Nicole Bridgens, Jeneé Michelle, Ashley Saunders, Carol Worcel, Nicholas Roman, and Kenny Shepard with choreography by Carol Worcel.
ATI co-founder Cynthia Collins portrays a world-weary version of Sally Bowles—a Sally who can almost be pitied for her forced frivolity, fully knowing that her life is the joke and she’s on her way out. Collins’s rendition of “Maybe This Time” conveys this, as it lacks the actual hopefulness others have put into this song. While Collins is a strong vocalist, the overuse of audio effects though the sound system, especially in the above-mentioned song, detracts from her voice’s natural modulations.
Opposite Sally is Cliff Bradshaw, who is given a sincere, likable demeanor by Eric J. Olsen that is emphasized by his generous smile. (Though the question of his sexuality is played down considerably here.) He contrasts well with the very convincing Patrick Vaughn as Ernst Ludwig, whose affability is tempered by his matter-of-fact attitude toward Nazi politics.
Some of the most engaging performances are found in the supporting cast, which also includes Judy Fitzgerald as Fräulein Kost, Debra Babich as Fräulein Schneider, and Darrin Murrell as Herr Schultz. Babich and Murrell imbue true emotions into their so-sweet rendition of “It Couldn’t Please Me More” (the pineapple song).
The band (musical direction by John D. Phillips), on stage behind sliding screens, even gets in on the fun with some alternative costuming.
Do note that the show contains mature content and themes, and the ATI suggest that it is suitable for ages 16 years and older.