Royal City Musical Theatre, Massey Theatre, until April 29th
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Robert Blackburn
Cabaret at Massey Theatre in New Westminster is a fun, lively night out competently and presented by Royal City Musical Theatre. Competently may not be the glowing adjective to get you off your sofa but I still wouldn't think twice in recommending you go see it. It's a cabaret, in name and performance but it is also just simply what it is. It's a well written musical that plays into the theatrics of the genre but also isn't a production thats going to change the world. It goes along at a fair clip ably helped along by the Emcee played by Andrew Cownden, who was entertaining throughout.
Surprisingly despite the flash and pomp of the "Kit Kat Club", the dialogue scenes were acted with an interesting naturalness. Lauren Bowler as Sally Bowles didn't shy from the trashy, past-her-prime characterisation papered over with an extrovert need to hang on to her youth and hope.
This was my first visit to Massey Theatre and it is a stunning space. Cabaret was professionally slick and certainly served the text. What is therefore difficult to understand, and please someone correct me if I'm wrong, is that the actors aren't paid unless they are appearing on behalf of equity. This is a common problem amongst "community" theatre in Vancouver who purport to produce professionally standard plays, and is a discussion that can be had for days and anywhere in the world BUT this lack of pay for professional level work is even more pronounced against the backdrop of the lovely looking Massey Theatre stage.
By Daphne Cranbrook
For their 25th anniversary year, Royal City Musical Theatre delivers all the glitz and glamour called for by Kander & Ebb’s sexy, gritty, and harrowing musical, Cabaret. With a brilliant, catchy score—executed impeccably by musical director James Bryson and his talented team—and an engaging storyline, Cabaret takes the audience on a titillating traipse into the Berlin of the late 20’s and early 30’s. The Kit Kat Klub is the place where most of the action happens, a seedy venue presided over by the Emcee (Andrew Cownden) who ensures that anyone can find what they’re looking for in his club. Sally Bowles (Lauren Bowler) is the headlining cabaret girl, an English woman past her prime who becomes desperate for some new digs. She finds a new flatmate in Clifford Bradshaw (Tim Howe), an American novelist who comes to Berlin for inspiration after hitting writer’s blocks in Paris and London. All this beautiful song and dance action takes place in the context of a Germany on the precipice of great change, a society where, at the moment, anything goes, but that will very soon find themselves in the grip of Nazism.
Valerie Easton’s direction and particularly her choreography are a joy to behold. This is a polished, confident production from the set design to the lights to the costumes; it is a feast for the senses. The ensemble is very strong. Cownden’s Emcee, in particular, was perfection, with the all-knowing, wink-wink presence needed in such an omnipotent figure. Bowler had an assertive grip on the brash and boisterous Sally whose superficiality belies her fragility and desperation. Cheryl Mullen and Damon Calderwood must also be applauded for their endearing portrayal of two elderly star-crossed lovers who find themselves at the crest of the impending tidal wave of xenophobia.
This is a flashy, fun show that I suggest you see. However, it would be irresponsible of me not to mention one glaring fault with this production, particularly in light of the review I wrote last week for Fabulist Theatre’s production of Once on This Island. In my review, I applauded Fabulist’s choices in casting such an astonishingly multi-ethnic group of artists that very much reflects the beautifully diverse population of the city we live in. I (perhaps prematurely) stated that hopefully the tired notion of there not being enough artists of colour available to cast in Vancouver was a thing of the past. Apparently, RCMT didn’t get the memo. I would love for the Cabaret production team to correct me if I’m wrong, but I did not see a single artist of colour on the Massey stage, save for one of the Boy Sopranos, who got approximately 5 minutes of stage time. In 2018, in one of the most diverse cities in North America, in a cast of 24, this is simply inexcusable. I understand that in the musical’s context of 1930’s Berlin and the impending ethnicism, racism, homophobia, and fascisim that was about to swallow Germany (and other nations) whole, it may have seemed as though an all-white cast was required to push the message of homogeny through. But let’s not kid ourselves. Let’s give our audiences the benefit of the doubt and trust that they would still be able to understand that bigotry is wrong, even without a visually homogenous cast. I would venture to say that having a more diverse cast would have highlighted with even greater effect how ridiculous the policy of ambiguously singling out one group of people as the “other” really is. I will not be convinced that the show calls for visual uniformity, simply because of the historical context. But as I said, please, if the production team can enlighten me on this, I will be happy to eat some humble pie.
Still, see this show. It is worth your time, particularly in the world in which we now find ourselves, where parallels may be shockingly and uncomfortably close to pre-WWII Germany.