Lake Country Players present : Cabaret!!

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

Life is a cabaret, old chum. A quote that anyone with an interest in theater or has seen the movie version of Cabaret or heard the Liza Minnelli recording is certainly aware of and may have actually sung or hummed the tune when you read the title for this blog post. Director Kimberly Laberge paraphrased it in her bio in the program as Enjoy the Cabaret, ole chum…and the production of Cabaret that she has unleashed at the Lake Country Playhouse invited us to enjoy it at every turn. And we did!

This was my first visit to Lake Country Playhouse, a little jewel of a theater housed in a former Masonic Temple in downtown Hartland WI. At my estimate of 100 seats, it is a pleasantly intimate space where everyone in the audience will feel like they are front row! Although this is great for the audience, given the size of the cast of Cabaret and the often energetic and boisterous activities of the cabaret, it is a challenge for a director and choreographer to wrestle. Particularly with a rather shallow stage, front to back, and I don’t imagine a lot of room in the wings. So bravo to Kimberly Laberge, choreographer Jackay Boelkow, stage manager Trinity Sullivan, and set constructor Adam Harrison for mastering this space and bringing Cabaret to life!

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

But here we are, in the Cabaret, the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy little dive with peeling wallpaper and a ‘proscenium’ arch with out any facade…just the structural two by fours. With just enough space behind the proscenium to accommodate the house combo, a patient lot of musicians who were in place well before the action begins and while the patrons were being seated. And they were the wholly appropriate accompaniment for the singers and dancers to come, thanks for music director Ashley Sprangers. This minimal set is incredibly suited for the content of the play and makes the majority of the stage available for the actors and the action. Again, props to Trinity Sullivan, set designer.

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And on to the cabaret. One of the key issues with any play is casting…and given the era of Weimar Germany and the denizens of the Kit Kat Klub, casting Cabaret has to be a unique challenge. But here Laberge found an amazing and diverse ensemble to present us with a Cabaret we can all identify with and enjoy!

One of the stand outs here is Viktoria Feely as Emcee. Having grown up in a world of Joel Grey, I felt that this is an amazing casting choice, going against expectations but exceeding in delivery. Feely has all of the requisite moves and is just amazing as she transforms from the brash and impertinent Emcee of the early acts to the sad and broken character we see as the play comes to an end. She gives us the complete spectrum that the role inspires and cleanly exhibits the underlying emotions that the play itself explores. And you knew she was giving her all throughout the play…in every single scene she was in…and that was a great bit of the play. I hope that we see Feely in other productions in the near future.

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And one of the other real treats here, is Maggie Wirth as Fraulein Schneider. An older woman renting rooms to make her living. She can be direct when conducting business, harsh with an unruly tenant, but easily swayed by an honest face. Her love story with Herr Schultz is touching and apparent in Wirth’s manner and the attentions she pays to Schultz. And her delight in the fresh fruits that he brings to her from his shop go beyond the pleasure of some fresh fruit. And Wirth brings it to the songs that are her’s and her’s alone. She really brought Fraulein Schneider out as a major character and a delight to watch.

And of course, you can’t have a successful Cabaret, without a Sally Bowles! And Laker Thrasher brings us the saucy, provocative, sexy, and sometimes questioning Sally. And of course their interaction with Clifford Bradshaw is a key element of the other love story in the play, and Thrasher plays it true. And yes, they are in exquisite voice, every bit the chanteuse!

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And don’t let me forget the men here. Ezekiel N. Drews as Clifford Bradshaw, the American novelist, convinced us he was the soft hearted and maybe a bit naive American somewhat lost in a Europe he didn’t quite understand and lost in his own desires that he also didn’t quite understand. Kyle Kramer gave us the tender and thoughtful Herr Schultz . He clearly showed us the feelings that Herr Schultz had for Fraulein Schneider, even before she was quite aware of them.

One other player that I want to mention is Shana Quandt as Fraulein Fritzie Kost. Besides her outstanding work as part of the dance chorus at the Klub, her verbal sparring with Fraulein Schneider about the visitors to her room were a welcome bit of humor against some of the more sober topics presented in Cabaret.

photo courtesy of Kimberly Laberge

And how do you costume sixteen characters in period pieces…several costumes per actor actually…and keep them original…and unique…and keep up with costume changes. I don’t know but oh my goodness, but costume designer Cas Mayhall certainly does. If you take a few moments and look at the photos, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Aren’t they just simply amazing? The costuming here certainly helped deliver the story just as well as the actors.

Now, this entire cast has to be one of the hardest working stage crews around. As the scene shifts from club to rooming house to train station and back, as actors move on and off the stage, they take the couches, tables, benches, and seats with them…and then back again…during brief between scene blackouts. Again kudos to Laberge, Boelkow, Sullivan, and cast for making this all work.

I missed opening weekend so if you plan on attending there is only one weekend left. And it was a full house at the Sunday matinee that I attended. Click here for performance and ticket information!

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