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Theater review: Peterborough Players returns with “Cabaret”

  • The Peterborough Players are putting on “Cabaret” through July 3. Pictured are ensemble cast members Isaac Phaman Reynolds, Zhang Bai-han, Kate Kenney, Max Elliott Braunstein, Gregory Coulter, Lucy Zukaitis, Katie Shults, Zaramaría Fas, along with Matthew McGloin as the Emcee. Courtesy photo—

  • Michelle Beth Herman as Sally Bowles in the Peterborough Players’ performance of “Cabaret.” Courtesy photo—

  • Ashley Saari Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/23/2022 2:14:05 PM
Modified: 6/23/2022 2:13:46 PM

“Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome!”

It is with these words the audience is welcomed into the world of “Cabaret”– and back to the Peterborough Players theater.

“Cabaret” is the first play staged indoors on the Peterborough Players barn stage since 2019, opening Thursday, June 23, at 7:30 p.m, and it’s a bombastic return. With a minimalistic backdrop and props, the majority of the play is carried by the costuming, superb lighting effects and a stellar cast and live band, who play in full sight of the audience above the stage.

Director Tom Frey selected the 1998 version of the play, the more-often-produced version of the story than its original 1966 version. Along with choreographer Ilyse Robbins and music director Jenny Kim-Godfrey, the Kit Kat Klub and Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house and its colorful cast of characters are brought to vivid reality on the Players’ stage.

“Cabaret” centers around the Kit Kat Klub, a hedonistic cabaret club still reveling in the sunset of the Jazz Age, where you might get a call at your table from an interested girl – or boy (after all, “This is Berlin,” says Bobby, one of the Kit Kat Boys) – from the stage. But just outside its doors, 1930s Berlin is teetering on the edge of the rise of the Nazi Party.

Impoverished American author Cliff Bradshaw, played by Brandon Grimes, comes to Berlin seeking inspiration for his new novel, and meets Sally Bowles, an English singer and once the crown jewel of the Kit Kat Klub, now out of work.

In a surprisingly tender contrast to the often-racy numbers featuring the beautiful boys and girls of the Kit Kat Klub, a subplot of the play follows the romance of Bradshaw’s boarding house landlady, Fräulein Schneider, and her smitten suitor, Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit-seller.

The play presents a striking contrast between its two acts – growing darker as the reality of the approaching disaster looms overhead. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise),” the final number of the first act, reveals the dark underpinnings of the play’s setting, and sent literal shivers up my spine. Led with a solo by Bridget Beirne as FräuleinKost, a German prostitute living in Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house, the song transforms from a light patriotic song to a darker marching song, revealing just how widespread Nazi sentiment has become, a chilling turn after mostly upbeat musical numbers in the first half.

The Kit Kat Klub numbers in the first half of the performance are wonderfully risque, performed with a minimum of props. The ensemble dancers are on point, a key when rhythm plays such a key role in the performance.

Michelle Beth Herman as Sally Bowles shines in the role. We’re introduced to her in the number “Don’t Tell Mama,” a fun, flirtatious number with the ensemble. Herman’s club performances hit just the right note for a cabaret show – a bit risque but overall just fun to watch. But the emotional numbers carry a different weight. 

Herman’s performance of “Maybe This Time,” Bowles’ yearning plea for just a bit of happiness, sets the tone for the rest of the show. The music seems pulled out of her, in an affecting way that lives up to the iconic song. But for me, “Cabaret,” the penultimate number of the show, is Herman’s best number. It is supposed to be a mix of a triumphant return to the stage and simultaneously the giving up of the very dreams she wished for in “Maybe This Time,” the conflict and deep emotion makes it the most-compelling song of the show.

Playing opposite Herman, Grimes acts as audience stand-in, the outsider dazzled by the Kit Kat Klub and the nightlife of Berlin – and by Sally Bowles – but with enough knowledge to know the signs when things start to devolve.

Another standout of the cast is Matthew McGloin as the Kit Kat Klub master of ceremonies. Spending most of the show in heavy makeup, with a character that calls for an over-the-top performance, McGloin doesn’t get lost behind the makeup or costume. Comparing McGloin’s performances in “Money” or “Two Ladies” to the absolute script-flipping “I Don’t Care Much” shows just how much range McGloin brings to the role.

Joy Hermalyn as Fräulein Schneider and Kraig Swartz as Herr Schultz offer a sincere through line as they fall into a sweet-but-doomed love. Hermalyn’s opera and Broadway background comes through in her performance, with her final song in the show, “What Would You Do?” as her standout performance of the night. 

“Cabaret” is an ambitious project for the Players’ return, making it an even-more-triumphant rendition of the Broadway classic. This is not one to miss.

“Cabaret” runs through July 3, with performances every night except Mondays. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on weeknights and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. on Sundays. Single tickets are $47, and are available for purchase at peterboroughplayers.org or by calling the box office at 603-924-7585 from 10 a.m. to showtime on performance days, or 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on non-performance days

Masks are required at the Peterborough Players for audience members. Actors on stage will be unmasked while performing. Should Hillsborough County risk levels reach a red status, all eating and drinking must be done outside.

Play-goers should note that Cabaret contains adult themes and language, and makes use of flashing lights.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 603-924-7172, Ext. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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