Feb. 11, 202: “Cabaret” at ALT

Audience Exiting Cabaret: Feb 5, 2022

“Show don’t tell!” The mantra of authors of every genre is currently on full display at Amarillo Little Theatre Adventure Space. In the space of two hours and through the magic of the stage, the cast and crew of Cabaret have done what hundreds of eminent historians in thousands of tomes have attempted: show how Germany morphed from a democracy to a fascist autocracy is less than a decade, although the actual focus of the play is Berlin, c. 1929-1930.

Reprised from one of the initial shows at the Adventure Space nearly two decades ago, all associated ALT personnel demonstrated that the impact of the musical has increased exponentially during that interim, as testified by the exit of a mute and sobered audience.

Two scenes, both floor shows at the Kit Kat Klub Caberet depict the story arc of the play. In both, the audience is welcomed by the emcee, the omniscient narrator and a paragon of louche depravity, played with Satanic relish by Jason Driver.

In the opening number, the Kit Kat girls and boys, scantily clad adverts for all forms of licentious exploration, romp around, encapsulating all of the moral anarchy associated with the politically impoverished Weimar Republic. Both sexes mime their specialties as the emcee explains. Mary Poppins, this ain’t! The cast members, true to their characters, performed their parts, from naughty to nasty, devoid of restraint or inhibition. Those who try to force this area into a mold of conservative rigidity obviously don’t know Amarillo’s stage scene, especially the Adventure Space.

In stark contrast, the second act’s final floor show scene, shows the bevy of beauties now Stahlhelm crowned and strutting in goosed and booted lockstep as they form a revolving swastika on stage. Die Neuordnung kommt! And, between these numbers, Everyman archetypes populate the limelight, illuminating this sordid transformation.

Sally Bowles, played by the incredibly talented Terry Martin, personifies willful ignorance of the worsening situation. Playing whatever part is necessary for Sally to get what Sally wants, she drops her facade in a moment of introspection, questioning whether she’s good enough to be a wife and mother. But, she gets over it, deciding to keep dancin’ with who brung her. Unhappiness is probably the least of the fates the future holds for Sally.

Dillon Kizarr plays the outsider, the ambigendered American writer Clifford Bradshaw who sees with clarity what is taking place in Germany. His attempts to enlighten fall on deaf ears, even as he takes amorous detours with Bobby, and does smuggling on the side for Ernst Ludwig, the Nazi party hack. Cliff is, like so many of us, a contradiction. But, he does recognize evil, stands up to it and pays the price. To Sally, shocked at his battered visage, he stoically remarks, “Well you ought to see the other three guys’ faces. Not a mark on them.”

Jo Smith and Jacob Miller are both convincing in their roles of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Fraulein Schneider calls herself a survivor, forsaking true love and happiness with the Jewish Schultz, laying low in order to survive. How many hundreds of thousands of such survivors were immolated in the firestorm of Hamburg or obliterated in the leveling of Dresden or Nuremberg? Herr Schultz, on the other hand, is in denial that the Nazis will ever come to power, and that the increasing violence against Jews is nothing but schoolboy pranks.

The greatest character change is seen in Fraulein Kost, the in-house prostitute played by Amber Morgan, who literally becomes the voice of change. Her solo in “Married” is auf Deutsch, full of hope and shows her tender side. However, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” which starts off as whimsical and light, centering on the new life of spring, becomes hard-edged and lethal, the cast forming a tightening circle around the two couples as Nazi flags unfurl from overhead. The effect was chilling. But it only got worse.

A sidebar on “Tomorrow,” composed by Fred Ebb and John Kander and used in the original stage production. The songwriters, both Jewish, conceived of the work as part of an anti-fascist cycle, but ironically, it has been adopted as an anthem by right-wing groups all over the western world.

Germans bought Hitler’s big lie, that Germany didn’t lose WWI, as well as his promise of MGGA. The consequence to any who didn’t conform, like Jews, or artists because they have the nasty habit of thinking for themselves, consumed the final scene, where all wore striped pajamas. The play abruptly closed with a crashing lights out and the characters vanished. A stunned audience didn’t applaud as the lights returned, and the dramatis personae made no curtain call.

Each in attendance exited lost in their own thoughts. This reaction alone attests to both the quality and effect of Cabaret.

The opening of the play so close to Holocaust Remembrance Day can’t be circumstantial and the brace of Caberet’s messages are more relevant than ever. The big lie, racism and antisemitism headline our news. The Jan. 6 insurrection, which the RNC so spinelessly called a “legitimate political discourse,” featured numerous 6MWE (six million weren’t enough) and “Camp Auschwitz” sweaters among the rioters.

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Monuments from Yad Vashem to the Holocaust Museum are dedicated to that memory. And, Amarillo Little Theatre has joined its voice to that mission. No one seeing Cabaret will forget its message, either historical or in current threat.

We can be thankful for such edgy theatre, that dares speaks the truth to powerful prejudice, and does so with matchless artistry. For this, and all of the elevated art found in this unlikely place, we say with gratitude, Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!!!

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