“Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome” to the UM student production of “Cabaret” at the Jerry Herman Ring Theater! If the second weekend of this show is anything like the first, viewers are in for a real treat. Skillful choreography, outstanding vocals, and emotive story-telling characterize the show, which deserves no other label than “must-see.”
For those unfamiliar with the story, “Cabaret” tells the tale of Sally Bowles, a nightclub performer and aspiring actress, and Cliff Bradshaw, a struggling author, who meet each other in pre- World War II Berlin, where they both hope to make it big. The pair fall in love but Sally’s perpetual restlessness and Cliff’s desperate need for security create a tumultuous relationship for them both.
Meanwhile, Fraulein Schneider, their land-lady, falls in love with Herr Schultz, a Jewish man who insists the Nazis won’t harm him because he is, above all, German. These along with several subplots are told by the Emcee, the host of the cabaret at the Kit Kat Klub, and the host of “Cabaret” itself.
For those of you familiar with the story, I won’t spoil it, but I promise you this interpretation is like no other. A surprising creative decision at the finale will leave you stunned, in tears, mouth agape, and/or unable to move from your seat. For me, it was all four.
Michael Jenkinson, a guest director whose resume consists largely of positions as a choreographer, put his own flair on the show by emphasizing dance and movement. The result? Totally synchronous choreography that dazzled the eye while simultaneously embodying the emotion and meaning of “Cabaret.”
“I applaud the students here at the University of Miami who have shown great conviction, dedication, and excellent artistry in their approach to the creative process,” wrote Jenkinson in his director’s note. Jenkinson was unfortunately not present to provide further comment, but his note expressed pride and gratitude for the actors and what they have achieved.
While all of the actors were incredible, there were a few standout performances. First – the Emcee. Joseph Torres’s portrayal of the Emcee can only be described as hauntingly delicious. He was the devil on your shoulder and a mirror to society – both causing and condemning the evil brewing during the emergence of the Nazi party. The adaptation for the theater-in-the-round allowed him to get up close and personal with the audience, his piercing gaze forcing viewers to become part of the story, whether they wanted to or not.
Another highlight of this production was Samantha Yates’s performance as Fraulein Schneider. Yates transformed herself into the lovable, sometimes strict, woman who yearns for companionship but is stymied by fear.
She’s cautious to a fault despite her claimed laissez faire approach to life, and Yates revealed her character effortlessly. Rich, pulsating vibrato and powerful belt made Yates’s portrayal both pleasing to the ear and heart-wrenchingly moving.
The third notable performance was a tad unexpected. Amanda Ribnick’s portrayal of Fraulein Kost was good throughout the show, but her performance of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise)” was spectacular. Fraulein Kost is not a main character, so the fact that Ribnick managed to make such a lasting impact in this role is a testament to her incredible vocal talent.
And finally, I couldn’t talk about standout performances without mentioning Miss Sally Bowles, played by Jenna Hochkammer. Hochkammer captured the spirit of Sally Bowles to the T, and her most impressive achievement was that she didn’t over-act. She was simply Sally Bowles.
And of course, her outstanding voice didn’t hurt. Hochkammer’s rendition of “Cabaret” evoked emotions ranging from pity to sorrow to hope to hopelessness within a mere three and a half minutes.
My only critique regards the attempted German accents. Playing Sally Bowles, Hochkammer had an easier time with the English accent, but the rest of the cast remained just on the cusp of a good German accent. This did not, however, detract from the show, so in the words of Fraulein Schneider, “Who cares? So what?”
In all, the production of “Cabaret” was horrifyingly moving, hauntingly beautiful, and tragically, well, cabaret. If you love the theater like I do or are just looking for something to do, “Life is a Cabaret, old chum, come to the Cabaret.”
Professional credits for Cabaret are as follows:
Book by Joe Masteroff
Based on the play by John Van Druten
Stories by Christopher Isherwood
Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Michael Jenkinson, Director, Choreographer
John Berst, Music Director
Arnold Bueso and Krystal Xinyu Fan, Scenic Designers
Arnold Bueso, Lighting and Projection Designer
Michiko Kitayama-Skinner, Costume Designer
Maha McCain, Makeup Designer