Nashville Rep's Cabaret | Theatre Review | Nashville Scene

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Nashville Rep breathes new life into an iconic Broadway musical, Cabaret - Martin Brady, Nashville Scene

Tennessee Rep's Cabaret Jenny Littleton

The musical Cabaret has an eventful history, and well after it reached Broadway icon status, revivals — stage and screen — have continued to rework the story and characters, sometimes adding and subtracting musical numbers. It is a curious and dark show, with an atypical show-biz spirit driven by a downer setting — 1931 Berlin, where the people are financially strapped and Hitler's Third Reich is gaining power.

Credit the authors — Joe Masteroff (book) and songwriting team John Kander and Fred Ebb — with successfully finding their way into the material, based on Christopher Isherwood's short stories about a seedy nightclub, 19-year-old English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her American writer-friend Cliff Bradshaw.

On the surface, it's hard to be sure why such a dour tale would be musically sustaining, and the songs in Cabaret don't always move the action along. They are primarily character songs and numbers performed in the Kit Kat Club, where tawdry is a way of life. That said, the tunes — with all their Weillesque gloom and sexual impudence — work, reinforcing the air of melancholy and entertainingly pacing the script.

Happily, Nashville Repertory Theatre's new production doesn't disappoint, providing a thoroughly credible version of a show that requires major talent to succeed.

Performing on Gary C. Hoff's two-story set — ingenious in its economy, with revolving sidepieces and a centrally located nightclub that oozes squalid theatricality — producing artistic director René D. Copeland's cast of 16 does the piece justice. Moreover, the players breathe originality and vitality into a timeworn vessel.

For a guy who hasn't done a musical in about 20 years, David Compton's Emcee is a wonder — lean, mean and engagingly satirical. His work, including the singing, is subtly edgy, and he turns in a bravura portrayal.

The tale's subplot, involving an older Jewish fruit salesman and a spinster landlady, is ultimately more compelling than the Sally-Cliff storyline (which hints at Cliff's bisexuality but never fully develops the point). Derek Whittaker and Ruth Cordell handle the salesman and landlady roles with admirable showmanship and deep feeling.

Read more of Martin Brady's Cabaret review for the Nashville Scene. As you can see the Nashville theatre community loves Nashville Repertory Theatre's production. Buy tickets today for Cabaret, you won't want to miss out!

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