ALT’s production of Cabaret is a good show. It has solid actors, a well-developed set and a live orchestra providing a strong backbone to its many musical numbers. But there’s one element to Cabaret that’s not just good, but great. That would be Jacob Lewis.
The story portrays the rising political shift of the Nazi regime in early-’30s Berlin through the lens of the Kit Kat Klub, a raunchy cabaret. The club's Master of Ceremonies (aka "the Emcee"), played by Lewis, reigns as host not just to the nightclub and its scantily clad assembly, but to the whole performance, punctuating the storyline with subversive, flamboyant and scintillating songs.
Lewis is an Albuquerque native but now lives in New York City, where he graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and studies under the Tony-winning Victoria Clark. (Some of his more impressive credits include singing with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center for Stephen Sondheim and being a featured vocalist on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne.) He is commanding, tickling the audience with his monarch-sized fake eyelashes and exuberance and then carefully breaking its heart. Lewis also seems tailor-made for the role—wiry, whimsical and wonderfully flirtatious. It would be easy to spend the show’s run time (two and a half hours with intermission) watching him alone.
The Emcee introduces us to Sally Bowles, a British songstress who floats about life with the same carefree charm she exudes on the nightclub stage. It’s through her gig as a headliner at the Kit Kat Klub that she meets American Clifford Bradshaw, who’s come to Berlin to write a novel. Sally and Clifford fall in love—or at least Sally’s version of love—and the budding starlet moves into Clifford’s boardinghouse room (although not in that order). Meanwhile, the boardinghouse’s middle-aged proprietress, Fräulein Schneider, enters a courtship with Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit shop owner who woos her with oranges and a pineapple. As political tensions swell, these relationships begin to unravel.
Mandy Farmer delivers a fun, especially naive version of Sally. She’s chipper and starry-eyed, but she lacks some of the character’s darker nuances. Still, Farmer’s got a nice voice, and she puts it to good use in classics like “Maybe This Time” (although she’s in a difficult position, as most people won’t be able to get Liza Minnelli out of their heads while watching the performance). Ryan Jason Cook serves as a strong counterpart as the gallant and in ways equally naive Clifford. Cook’s best work comes when he tries to convince Sally to flee the country with him. Sally, of course, refuses to go, and Cook’s pleas become both heartwrenching and terrifying.
An interesting note to the show is the personal connection one of the cast members has to the story. The mother of Ron Bronitsky—who plays Herr Schultz—grew up in Austria as anti-Semitism was beginning to grip Europe. Though Jewish, Bronitsky says his mom was mainly left alone. When she attended medical school at the University of Vienna, however, she witnessed the horrific treatment of her young male peers. “Her classmates were victims of hate crimes,” Bronitsky says. “They were beaten just because they were Jewish.” The environment also spurred riots; during one such riot, a friend of hers jumped out of a second-story window in order to escape. Bronitsky’s mother met his father at the school, and they were able to leave Austria for New York before the borders closed.
Bronitsky says he wanted to be involved in the play in part because of his family’s connection to its subject matter, but he’s been surprised by the intensity of the experience. “The emotional tug every night is very strong,” he says. “At the end, when the Emcee is in prisoner’s garb, and I’m standing next to him with my head bowed, it’s very powerful. It’s hard. I’m sitting there with a lump in my throat the whole time.”
That same feeling spreads to the audience at the end of the show. Albuquerque Little Theatre’s version of Cabaret pays particular attention to the prejudiced backdrop of the piece, hammering in the starkness, violence and inhumanity of the era. But director Henry Avery has found a way to do so elegantly, intertwining the show’s sparkle with its heavier elements. And with Lewis taking the lead, Albuquerque Little Theatre has found itself a show that will likely be talked about for years to come.