I know-I have absolutely no right to review a theatre production, given my one theatre class in University, and the three plays that I acted in during highschool. Regardless, I’m going to take the plunge, because I think that it helps me to explore the concept of theatre a little more. Theatre, I believe, is something that everyone should learn to appreciate. It is where true talent shines-where depth and flexibility in ability really demonstrates itself. This is particularly true at the Shaw. The Shaw does not utilize a “Star System”, meaning that no single actor or actress in their team receives all the top rolls, nor do they hire a superstar from the outside to perform in their productions. Each actor and actress performs in two plays during a season-often featuring in one and remaining as a minor character in another. They are also understudies in a third play. It is clear from this that the actors are stretched and very gifted. For this reason, we should all appreciate live theatre. Beyond this, however-there is something so much more intimate about live theatre. It is genuine, and you can pick up on the greatness of the actors much more as they entrance you with the emotion of the piece that they are performing. On the other end, however-theatre also provides much more avenue for failure. This, unfortunately, is the end that revealed itself most pertinently in Cabaret by the leading male: Gray Powell, who played Cliff Bradshaw.
In a theatre production, emotions must be somewhat enhanced in order to draw the audience in. Everything must be done with a certain level of flare-the difficulty often arises when discerning how much is too much. Cabaret, however, is a flamboyant play right off the get-go. It involves gaudy and vibrant makeup and costumes, dramatized character types, and big shiny music. This, in the Shaw festival’s Cabaret, was starkly and negatively contrasted with the character of Cliff Bradshaw, who was projected by Gray Powell as a monotone and unenthusiastic man, who had very little signing ability. The second I could handle, as his singing role is minor. But a monotone Cliff sucks the life out of the play. I understand that a certain level of seriousness is required in the character, but this Cliff rested in the middle of the emotional spectrum, when he should have been terribly upset, depressed, confused, or passionate. Swearing was used for the shock-value on the audience, but it was not natural. It was a Will Ferrell moment, where cursing is used to surprise: it is a surprise only because it does not fit the current tempo of the piece.
Juan Chioran did an absolutely masterful job of the Emcee-brilliantly incorporating all of the symbolism that was required in the piece. He alone made it worthwhile for me as a viewer to watch the play. Likewise, the two leading ladies: Deborah Hay as Sally Bowles, and Corrine Koslo as Fräulein Schneider both hit the audience powerfully with their characters and solos. The emotional turmoil that they presented was beautiful in its difficulty, challenging the viewer to struggle with the difficult decisions that were made as the Nazis began to take power. It is unfortunate that Gray Powell in his role cast a negative pale over the show, with his extremely bland and shallow portrayal.
I think that from this review, you can see what I would regard as important about theatre. Theatre causes the audience to feel emotions that cannot be felt otherwise, and to struggle with the difficult occurrences of the past that would be beyond our reach otherwise. A good piece of theatre must involve struggle, both on the stage and off. Bravo to all of you out there who continue to bring this absolutely essential part of culture to the forefront of our lives!