Written by Holly Quinn
“Cabaret” is a powerful show in the most carefree of times, but it’s times like these that it has the most impact.
Wilmington Drama League’s production, directed by Dominic Santos, makes it clear that this is not just the story of Berlin on the edge of World War II – it’s a story that reflects life right now.
One way Santos drives it home that this isn’t simply a “period piece” is with his casting choices. The cast is predominantly black, and as it goes on you realize that it is not just random blind casting – virtually all of the German characters, as well as the British club performer Sally Bowles (Cara Clase), are people of color.
Only the American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Jason Tokarski) and a few of the Kit Kat Girls have been cast with white actors.
Why does it matter? As Santos (a self-described black, hispanic and gay American) says in the program’s director’s letter, “There are people sitting around you at this moment and performing on our stage who can connect with the struggles of the Germans in the 1930s.” The casting makes the timeliness of the production that much more relevant.
And it works. These characters are not the ones who gave The Third Reich power; they were the ones who suffered from it, sometimes refusing to see reality until it was too late.
It’s fair to say that Santos’ “Cabaret” is a dark, openly political commentary on 2017 America. And yet – because it is “Cabaret,” it’s a highly entertaining and frequently risque song and dance show that is at time lots of fun, too.
In the middle of it all is the colorful Emcee, played by Brian Hylton. He is the master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Club, transcending those walls to narrate the larger story, which involves the relationships between Sally and Cliff as well as boardinghouse owner Fräulein Schneider (Kylee Shaw) and Herr Schultz (Alfred Lance), a Jewish fruit vendor.
The casting could not be better.
Cara Clase, an economics student at the University of Delaware, is absolutely brilliant as Sally, bringing all of the whimsy, glamo, and emotion the role requires, and then some. Tokarski's Cliff brings affable American charm to a role that, like Sally, is a rollercoaster of emotions.
Shaw and Lance have a sweet chemistry as the mature couple facing a devastating situation. Also significant are Timothy Sheridan as Cliff’s mysterious German friend and Pam Atk as Fräulein Kost, Cliff’s comic yet tragic sex worker neighbor.
Then, of course, there are the 10 Kit Kat Girls and Boys, who do an amazing job with Santos’ racy choreography, certainly helping to make the production memorable.
With its opening night falling on Holocaust Remembrance Day, this is a “Cabaret” that is meant to get a discussion going. All in all, a very special production that should not be missed.