Ladies and Gentlemen run, do not walk, down to the The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre to take in their production of Cabaret. I loved it!! I guess we always tend to think of the The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre as a small community-type theatre and this would be an injustice to them. With this production of Cabaret they show that they are only small with regards to the size of the theatre and not the quality of their productions. The Saidye Bronfman Centre has been forced to survive on very small arts grants (totaling a mere $28,000) from the federal government. They are able to stage the six shows they are putting on this season due to the generosity of donors. This year will be the second year that they kick off their season with a large-scale production (last year it was Man of La Mancha). As opposed to some others who feel that Cabaret is a 'well-worn' play; I believe that if presented correctly that the themes (racism, freedom and that most people plod ahead in life with their heads in the sand not really aware of what is going on in the world around them) within the play are still very relevant today. The nearly capacity theatre seemed to agree with my enjoyment of the play as they gave the cast a standing ovation at the end.
Even though the set for Cabaret was sparse it did not seem like any corners were cut. The focus of the play is on the music, actors and the story and not the inanimate objects on the stage. This is something that director Steven Schipper has recognized and allows his actors to take the forefront. The pacing of the play is great and even with the set changes one scene seemed to flow into the next. Schipper's production is less sexually charged and more emphasis is placed on the political aspect, which makes it a darker interpretation, but a more relevant one. What is great about this is that though the focus is altered there is no loss of energy or entertainment. A really nice touch was the live six-piece band (which includes well-known Montreal jazz players Chet and Jim Doxas) that accompanied the actors. They were excellent and lent to the whole atmosphere of the Kit Kat Club by wearing wigs and lingerie. The only technical problem with the production was the occasional sound blip; either the sound was too low or there were some instances of feedback, but this was not enough of a distraction to hamper my enjoyment.
For me the whole play lives or dies with the casting of the Master of Ceremonies and Damien Atkins is the character. His voice is great, his look is androgynous, his comedic timing is spot on, and he moves around the stage in exactly the type of serpentine way the part requires. His high level performance bode very well for the whole production for me. Naomi Costain as Sally Bowles takes on the daunting task of assuming the role that everyone associates with Liza Minelli. She does a good job. Her voice is good, but I repeatedly wished to myself that she would let it rip more often when she sang. Costain does a good job showing Sally's loss of innocence (and Germany's) about what was going on at that time in Germany, but she is not equally convincing in her portrayal of Sally as a hard-drinking and living party girl. Cameron MacDuffee is a likable Clifford Bradshaw, but something seemed to be missing in his performance for me. The two supporting, but important roles, of Herr Schultz (Michael Rudder) and Fraulein Schneider (Kathleen McAuliffe) were done much better than the previous time I had seen the play; these two roles, when done well, give an all-important added dimension to the story. It was a great evening at the theatre and I hope that the federal government comes to realize that English theatre has to be supported in Montreal (The Centaur is the only other full-time English-language theatre in Montreal). I believe that the sky is the limit for the people at the Saidye Bronfman Theatre if they were to have a larger budget.
Cabaret / September 11-October 2, 2005
The Leanor and Alvin Segal Theatre