Cabaret -Theatre Review

A review by Bill Garry.

Cast of Cabaret. Photos by Joan Marcus

It's not easy writing a review of this Cabaret.  This is the classic Broadway musical with book by Joe Masteroff and music and lyrics by legends John Kander and Fred Ebb. The show is based on a 1939 novel, 1951 play, and originally produced on Broadway in 1966. It has been revived many times, most recently by New York's Roundabout Theatre Company in 2014.

Almost everyone is familiar with the famous songs from the 1972 movie -- Liza Minnelli singing "Life is a cabaret, old chum" and Joel Grey, as the impish Master of Ceremonies, singing "Money makes the world go around." Millions saw Alan Cumming sing "Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome" on the Tony Awards telecast in 1998.

But now let's return to the present, where the national tour, based on director Sam Mendes 1993 London reinvention, is playing at the Pantages.

Sorry to pile on all those dates -- 1951, 1966, 1972, 1993, 1998 -- but I have a good reason.  It's because it is now 23 years after this production was conceived, and today's audiences are not older, but younger.  Outside of New York and London, they don't have the same common cultural memories as audiences of 23 years ago.  They haven't been inculcated with the Nazi origin story.  And the problem with this production is that without proper historical references, the audience gets lost. And the power behind Cabaret gets lost, too.

Let me explain. I am a transplanted New Yorker over 50. Because of my background, I know the Nazi story well. I know about Hitler Youth. I know about Kristallnacht. My guest for the show was a native Los Angelino, younger than I, of Asian descent. She didn't know the "innocent" songs that the children of Germany were taught to sing.  And the significance of trains, broken windows, and "shower" rooms didn't naturally register with her.  (Please understand that my friend is very educated, and certainly learned about these things in school. But she didn't internalize it the way New Yorkers and Londoners do.)

So when the show made narrative leaps over holes that audiences in 1966, 1993 and 1998 would know, she was lost. And I had to explain the significance of what she just saw or heard. Which then took me out of the show, too.

A simple line or two here, a concentration camp sign there, would have gone far.  

The show is not totally out of date.  It's sexed up and sexy, thanks to assertive choreography by Cynthia Onrubia. Smart alecky Randy Harrison (LEFT), as the Master of Ceremonies, is a modern "bro" -- jabbing us, jiving us, and giving a hug when we need it. Waif-like Andrea Goss (RIGHT) gives a layered performance as Sally Bowles, starting out as an airhead before spinning "Cabaret" into an angry "emo" tour-de-force. 

It is Shannon Cochran, as the lovelorn Fraulein Schneider, and Mark Nelson, (RIGHT) as the naive and optimistic Herr Schultz, though, who really break our hearts. Their simple scenes together were heartfelt and, like Herr Schultz's fruit, ripe.  (If only the "brick through the window" scene didn't fly over the heads of the audience.)

As you would expect from the Nederlanders, owner of the Pantages, this Cabaret is a polished entertainment. Robert Brill's set design and William Ivey Long's costumes creatively convey the decadent (some would say degenerate) conditions of the seedy Kit Kat Club and environs of Berlin. The musicianship of the actors and orchestra members (most do double duty) under musical director Robert Cookman was superb. Their swinging rendition of the title song at the beginning of act two was a highlight of the night.

Even the sound in the notoriously echoey Pantages was clear as a bell, thanks to good sound design by Keith Caggiano and the theatre sound team of Kevin McCoy and Rachelle Hough.


JULY 19 - AUGUST 7, 2016 

6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

Tuesday - Friday at 8pm
Saturday at 2pm & 8pm
Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm

Individual Tickets: Individual tickets start at $29
Ticket prices subject to change without notice.
Parental Advisory: Ages 13 and up
Children under 5 will not be admitted to the theatre.

Tickets: Online: or
Phone: 1-800-982-2787
In Person: Hollywood Pantages Box Office (opens daily at 10am)
and all Ticketmaster Outlets
Groups: Groups of 10 or more may purchase at

Posted By Bill Garry on July 22, 2016 03:32 pm | Permalink