Review: Cabaret by City Theatre Company
by Michael Meigs

Johann Robert Wood, Leslie Hollingsworth (image: Andy Berkovsky)It's enticingly easy to imagine yourself away to 1930's Berlin in this staging of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, for the City Theatre's space creates exactly the right dynamic.  There are rules-of-thumb for successful parties.  The first involves adequate supplies of liquor, but the second one, in fact the more important, requires fitting the numbers of guests to the room. The City's 85-seat intimate space is exactly right, both as a cabaret world where performers will joke, wink and jiggle just for you and as a combustible concentration of expectations.

Why Cabaret?  It's a warhorse of the American stage, of course, packed with thrills, pleasures and very familiar music.  In part it's a coming-of-age story, both for our naïve protagonist Cliff the aspiring novelist and for the naïve United States that he represents.  There's a Freudian sting to it as well, for Cabaret balances the pleasure principle and coyly concealed visions of violence and death -- and incarnates them in the character of the EmCee.  In that role, relative newcomer to Austin Johann Robert Wood is absolutely terrific -- an enticing guide to the hells of temptation.  Charismatic, muscular, graceful and mocking, he dominates that stage even when it's filled up with quivering pink pulchritude.


Leslie Hollingsworth surrounded by Kelly Sardinas, Kaitlyn Moise, Jen Haddix, Cass Roberts, Sarah Brooks Aldridge and Rose MitchellThose Kit Kat girls fill up and spill out of those lingerie-style costumes.  They strut, wiggle and giggle and they exude an allure and attraction that's as intimate and heady as musk-based perfume.  There's not a body stocking in sight.  The choreography is great fun in a cheerfully naughty way without technical flash.  It's entirely convincing as come-on comedy and good times.

Matt Burnett plays Cliff the guileless American, lantern-jawed, good-hearted and completely clueless.  Burnett's a fine singer and dancer, so it's all the more striking to see him craft a character of such small-town inhibitions.  Cliff's failure to integrate in Berlin is symbolized by the fact that he's the sole performer with almost no singing and no dance.

Director Andy Berkovsky vividly captures the Eros and Thanatos of Isherwood's tale, crafting powerful stories and slapping the audience smartly in the face at the finale.  The aspect of that terrible time that does not come across, however, is famine, the third horseman of the Apocalypse, symbolic of need, hunger and want.  The principals and the Kit Kat girls all have a well-fed air.  Wood as the EmCee can at least dissimulate that solid physical comfort with makeup and movement.

Matthew Burnett, Leslie Hollingsworth (image: Andy Berkovsky)

Leslie Hollingsworth-VanderGheynar as Sally Bowles has a fine set of pipes on her, and her songs are a pleasure to hear.  She did not convince me that Sally was hungry or neurotic or from the UK.  And I didn't hear the 'click' that linked her and Cliff beyond his redemption.


Much more arresting is Vanessa Marie (O'Brian) in the secondary role of Fraulein Kost, the roomer who relies on a continual parade of overnighting sailors to pay her rent.  Vanessa Marie has the cynicism of this role down pat, and she drifts through background and back-ups as a real lost soul, one with a fine voice and haunting presence.

Karen Sneed, Mick D'Arcy, Johann Robert Wood (image: Andy Berkovsky)Austin reliables Karen Sneed as landlady Frau Schmidt and Mick D'Arcy as  Herr Schultz the Jewish greengrocer play the ageing lovers ultimately kept apart by the threats of Nazi anti-Semitism.  It's a calm, believable courtship, and Sneed tugs heartstrings as she loses both her suitor and her previously stoic sense of indifferent independence. Mario  Silva as the self-certain clandestine Nazi Ernst and the multi-role men Lucas Howland, Leslie Hethcox, Gabrel Diehl and Aaron Bryant hover in menace and deliver some sharply etched cameo roles.



And, of course, there's music that seduces us all, no matter how dire the circumstances on stage. David Blackburn gives the electronic keyboard the punch of a whole show band and he's assisted by the Hair band (the same players used by City's production last year?) with Nathan Langfitt on drums, Kyle Myers on bass and Shirley Johnson on accordion.


This is a Cabaret with a vision, and it's not one of sugar plums.  Come hear the music play, my friends, but be prepared for the bitter with the sweet.


Review by Jeff Davis for, August 29

Review by Olin Meadows for, September 4



Click to view the City Theatre program for Cabaret


Hits as of 2015 03 01: 1593

by Kander and Ebb, based on Christopher Isherwood's stories
City Theatre Company

August 16 - September 09, 2012
City Theatre
3823 Airport Boulevard
Austin, TX, 78722