Applause for Gateway’s ‘Cabaret’
Courtney Wolfson (center) gives an outstanding performance as Sally Bowles in the Gateway Playhouse production of ‘Cabaret’

Courtesy photo

Applause for Gateway’s ‘Cabaret’

Story By: GLENN ROHRBACKER
8/9/2018


Complex tales often get changed, adapted and readapted to meet the needs of a creative mind. You’ve played the game of telephone. The harder the phrase, the more outlandish the final composition. So how does one create a stage performance that chronicles the many complex aspects of one of the darkest moments in world history? In “Cabaret,” it happens right in front of your eyes.

The musical takes place on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, but in Berlin, the raunchy nightlife and sexy lifestyle is all anyone is focused on. It takes outsiders like Cliff Bradshaw, played by Steve Grant Douglas, who had come to Berlin for inspiration for his novel, to poke a hole in the fun and give a glimpse into reality.

I’ve seen many musicals and plays, and I’ve been a performer in some. Never have I seen a show that commands such raucous applause and deafening silence in mere minutes. But this is the type of show “Cabaret” is, and the Gateway Playhouse production was able to capture that.

Cortney Wolfson’s portrayal of Sally Bowles was nothing short of outstanding. For a character that speaks to many of us, Wolfson was able to show a truly full disposition, a real person. From her unending desire for fame and quest for attention, to her seemingly dangerous cluelessness to the reality of life, Bowles is all of us at one point or another. She is introduced to the audience in her “Cabaret” performance of “Don’t Tell Mama,” which was a perfect precursor to the personality of this character.

“Politics? But what has that to do with us?” Bowles says when the world seems to be collapsing around her. She ignores the pleas of Bradshaw to flee while they still can.

But as the show goes on and the dark moments make their impact, there is always the return of the cabaret. The Kit Kat Klub is never dark in its spirits, and the good times seem to be here permanently. Despite his repeated efforts, Bradshaw can’t entice Bowles to leave her life under the lights. 

Another standout performance was Steve Brady as Herr Schultz. Brady was an expert in capturing the comedic moments within this dicey climate, and was a calm rock during a time of turmoil in Berlin. Alex Puette as Ernst Ludwig gives a great performance of a character that continues to develop throughout the show. Puette was able to apply his character’s personality in the moment, and show how quickly familiar things can change.

Something that will hopefully stand out to the audience is the seemingly mundane way this time in world history was described by those who lived it. Most of the conversations about the impending Holocaust and the rise of the Nazi regime were chalked up to “politics.” Maybe this is due to hindsight, but I don’t know anyone who refers to the Nazi Party as a political movement or Adolf Hitler as a politician.

“Cabaret” tackles several controversial issues in one musical. The theme includes fascism, anti-Semitism, abortion, homosexuality, bisexuality, drugs and the role of a citizen. And for all of the narratives that take place in 1930, the plot is very modern.

The Emcee is an important role in this story, described as a “master manipulator” by his portrayer, Josh Canfield. Canfield was eerily engaging on stage, capturing the humor, sexual and dark moments with an equal amount of commitment. It was easy to believe that the Emcee was trying to control something. And Canfield was a great person to play the Emcee. You could tell he was fully enveloped in the character and was able to play off the characters on stage and the audience. 

This show is full of surprises, a unique irony for a show in which everyone watching knows the ending. But even for those who don’t know where the story may go or might be confused as to how this story will be resolved, it should all come together when the Emcee makes his final appearance. See if you can recognize him for yourself.