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Texas State’s 'Cabaret' is a dark production for a dark time

Andrew J. Friedenthal Special to the American-Statesman
"Cabaret." [Contributed]

The classic musical "Cabaret" is a dark story in even the happiest of times, so what does a top-notch production of the show look like today? Positively brutal, in a vital and necessary way.

The resonance between "Cabaret" and our contemporary world is impossible to miss. With music by John Kandor, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Joe Masteroff (based on the play by John Van Druten and the stories of Christopher Isherwood), the musical tells the story of the citizens of one boarding house in Berlin on the cusp of the Nazi takeover of Germany, counterposed against the furiously sexualized burlesque hijinks of a cabaret called the Kit Kat Club. In showing how those who choose to ignore the political tides by fiddling while Rome (or in this case, Berlin) burns end up participating in their own destruction, "Cabaret" speaks volumes about the rise of fascism in our own time, both in this country and internationally.

Given its timely appeal, "Cabaret" has become a popular revival in the past few years, but the new production from the Texas State University Department of Theatre and Dance distinguishes itself by fully embracing the darker nuances of the text in a way that other versions shy away from.

Right from the opening number, director Tom Delbello chooses to amp up the sexuality that is an inherent part of "Cabaret," taking what is normally a burlesque atmosphere and transforming it into something more akin to an S&M dungeon (aided in no small part by the brilliant and thematic costume designs from Alexander Stearns).

This hyper-sexuality is intimately tied to the choreography co-created by students Jacob Burns and Beau Harmon, a kinetic explosion that grows increasingly manic throughout the production. The Kit Kat Club performers are like robots on the verge of exploding, or puppets jerked to and fro on their strings; it is simultaneously engaging and disturbing, underlying the increasing threat of the oncoming storm.

Just as the sexuality is amplified in this production, so too is the sense of anger. A potent, directionless rage vibrates underneath the surface of much of the play, exploding at times in disturbingly fascistic (and fetishistic) ways.

Nick Eibler, as the nameless Emcee, is given the task of physically embodying this social breakdown, a transformation that he takes on with amazing confidence and skill. He is at turns charming, ambiguous, hilarious, pathetic and absolutely frightening, often within the same number. Similarly, Logan-Rae as Sally Bowles is less of a good-time girl, as most actresses portray Sally, and more of a knowing participant in her own degradation, a terrifying take on the character that is perfectly in tune with the rest of this production.

Texas State’s production of "Cabaret" is dark and unsettling, and it provides no solutions for our own dark and unsettling era. What it does, however, is use high-energy theatricality to burn some vital questions into our brains, daring us to care more about ourselves and about each other before we find ourselves dancing at the end of the world.


When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13-17, 2 p.m. Nov. 17-18

Where: Patti Strickel Harrison Theatre, Texas State University, San Marcos

Cost: $5-$10