“Cabaret” Shines a Light on a Dark Reality at the Manuel Artime Theater

Cast of “Cabaret” at Manuel Artime Theater

“Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!” When it premiered in 1966, the musical “Cabaret” revolutionized Broadway theater with its delightfully risqué songs, poignant message and memorable characters. Set against the backdrop of a sleazy cabaret club in Weimar Berlin, the opulence of the German capital city leading up to World War II, the show has lived on through an iconic film starring Liza Minelli and Michael York in the 1970s, even today with a major West End production starring Jessie Buckley and Eddie Redmayne. “Cabaret” comes to Miami’s Manuel Artime Theater from the Loxen Productions crew who produced “In the Heights” at the Arsht Center back in 2021. “Cabaret” runs in Miami from January 6-15 with tickets available here.

A red curtain opens to a minimalist, two-tier set creating the “Kit Kat Club.” In front of the audience, a few tables are seated right by the stage, where performers interact with audience members. A pit band sits on the upper tier, while the Master of Ceremonies (played here by Miguel Luciano) playfully welcomes the audience to the show. With a litany of actors having taken drastically different approaches to the twisted Emcee, Luciano plays the Master of Ceremonies with a more poised, detached manner in the vein of Joel Grey. Introducing the Cabaret boys and girls in a tongue-and-cheek opening number, we are introduced to our main protagonist, Clifford Bradshaw. With the story loosely based on the writings of author Christopher Isherwood in “Goodbye to Berlin.” The surrogate character Cliff is also an author, coming to the German capital city to get inspired for his writings. Performed by Paul Tuaty, the actor provides the “straight man” foil to the hazy, glamorous haze around him.

Having visited the city of Berlin myself back in October, I was impressed by the attention to detail in the German accents of the actors. Frank Montoto plays the German nationalist Ernst Ludwig, who encounters Cliff on the train to Berlin, with a stoic intensity that makes the reveal in Act I during “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise)” so brilliantly eerie. As the landlord of Cliff’s flat, Fraulein Schneider is introduced as a carefree matron of the house with her love interest, Herr Schultz who is introduced as a Jewish owner of a fruit stand. The more mischievous tenant of Schneider’s home, Fraulein Kost flits in and out of the scene between dalliances with German sailors. While in the film, all of the secondary characters’ songs are cut, the play gives so many big moments to these seemingly smaller roles. Francine Birns plays Fraulein Schneider with a lyrical quality to the more matronly role with an impeccable timing. Craig Dearr brings an innocence and loving quality to Herr Schultz that makes the ending so incredibly heartbreaking for the older gentleman. However, one absolute standout of the cast is Evelyn Pérez as Fraulein Kost, the ditzy strumpet whose vocals have this sirene, operatic quality that are given an eerie presence in the shocking reveal of the show.

One of the hands-down most brilliant performances of the night is delivered by Camila V. Romero as the tragically aimless ingénue, Sally Bowles. While dramaturgically, the character is written to be a less-than-stellar talent that remains in the Kit Kat Club due to her lack of ability to venture beyond the doomed nightclub. Even though it is implied that the Nazis are about to crack down on the sexually liberated and progressive city of 1931 Berlin, Sally cannot feign herself to leave because to anyone besides herself, she is a mediocre singer and actress. Romero plays the role of the flibbertigibbet with such a wild yet calculated persona, her stellar vocals nearly betray her performance. From the introduction of “Don’t Tell Mama” to an absolutely jaw-dropping rendition of “Cabaret” with a layered and nuanced approach, Romero’s spin on Sally Bowles could leave one positively speechless. 

With a larger ensemble of Cabaret girls and boys, the choreography by Ana Montoya is both reminiscent of the original Ron Field with a little bit of Fosse infused into the show. As a musical director, Ryan Crout and the musicians above the stage have to be praised for balancing a jazz-heavy score infusing traditional German songs, musical theater, and folk music á la the iconic Kander and Ebb score. Notable for their work on “Chicago” and “New York, New York,” the show delivers some instantly memorable songs such as “Maybe This Time” as well as the title track “Cabaret.”

Directed/produced by Benji Leon, the director has taken references from the history of “Cabaret” to create a truly dazzling yet poignant show. Set designer Dudley Pinter takes some references from the original production in the two-tier set representing both the Kit Kat Club and Fraulein Schneider’s flat. While visually the sightlines may take away some of the intimacy of the scenes, it evokes the gritty reality of the German people below, whilst the British and American characters of Sally and Cliff can observe from a distance. Flanking the stage are two panels of metal, a reference to the giant mirror on the stage that would appear at the end of “Cabaret” to reflect back onto the audience. The mirror represents a shocking twist of reality to the audience who spends the show observing and making judgements on whether or not they would resist the fascist tyranny of 1931 Berlin, by making them as much a part of the action on stage as well. 

“Cabaret” is an absolute marvel of a show, balancing between a massive spectacle and a grim reminder of the social responsibilities we have in our everyday lives. Loxen Productions brings an elegantly produced rendition of the classic Kander and Ebb show that promises an absolutely entertaining evening of theater. “Cabaret” runs at the Manuel Artime Theater from January 6-15 with tickets available here.

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