Cabaret brings something unique to Shoals

The following text is a review of “Cabaret” by Flor-Ala Student Writer Matt Wilson.

Life is a cabaret, old chum. And for those who found themselves at the Shoals Theatre this past weekend, life was indeed a cabaret, according to many audience members.

Presented by the Zodiac Players and directed by UNA’s professor of music Alan Flowers, “Cabaret” is a musical filled with an existentialist plot, solid characters and enough scantily clad women to entertain even the prudest of theater goers. It is risqué, but it is tasteful.

There are big girls, there are tiny girls and a few in between. There are young lovers and older lovers. Prostitutes, sexually ambiguous young men, Nazis and a gorilla in drag all make an appearance. When taken into context, the fact this production is happening a mere football field away from a church in Florence seems risqué in and of itself.

Opening night can be a catalyst or a train wreck for any theatre production. A smooth run of things can create a buzz around town, thus ensuring the seats are filled for the rest of the shows. A lack of energy, a glaring absence of talent, or a cornucopia of blown lines can send ticket sales south of everyone’s hopeful expectations. Through a few minor, yet noticeable technical gaffes, “Cabaret” came off with confidence and competence.

As the locals in their dressy-casual getups made their way to their seats, the house lights fell and the players took their places. From the first note to the last crescendo, the music carried the night. Since this is a musical you might expect nothing less, but the backing trio kept the direction and pace of the whole production in line.

The first few numbers seemed to catch the cast off guard. There was a noticeable lack of energy from the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub for the first few scenes. The flamboyance required of this character seemed to be just out of the reach of actor Hunter Jackson. But just as this thought had crossed my mind, Jackson found whatever had been eluding him and held tightly to it for the rest of the show.

“I jumped into this role only a week and a half ago,” said Jackson. “I was running backstage in between scenes and glancing at my script, just to check.”

The characters of Clifford Bradshaw and Sally Bowles, played by Ethan Lolley and Katie Cockrell, formed the central love story of which the plot revolves. Bradshaw represents the innocence of life while Bowles represents the “ignorance is bliss” side of things.

While these two may have been the focal point of the plot, the undeniable show-stealing couple of the night were Fraulein Schneider played by Anna Eastep Gibson and Herr Schultz played by Barry Rickard. Scheider, the room-renting German widow and Shultz, the Jewish fruit shop owner fall in love and everyone in attendance has that fuzzy feeling when they see their grandparents embrace. The chemistry on stage between the two actors surpassed that of any other throughout the night.

The cocky yet awkward German-turned-Nazi, Ernest Ludwig, played by Mack Cornwell and the endearing prostitute, Fraulein Kost, played by Brinna Brown are notable as well.

Cornwell lures you into his character early on with a sense of aloofness before revealing his Nazi tendencies by the second act. If a prostitute could ever be perceived as charming, Brown does the trick. As she’s stalking around on stage you know that she is a lady of the night, and yet you still feel like you could bring her home to your mother.

Opening night was not perfect, but it had energy and focus. It was a performance with promise.

“We had a less than stellar last dress rehearsal,” said Jackson. “But that tends to be a good thing in theatre.”

Frances Cohenour, one of the Kit Kat Klub girls, agreed.

“Old theatre lore is: bad dress rehearsal, good opening night,” she said.

Director Alan Flowers praised the cast’s performance.

“The hardest part of putting on a production like this is working around everyone’s schedules,” he said. “Everyone worked very hard and I think it showed.”

UNA student Dillon Green commented on the raciness of “Cabaret.”

“Theatre in general is over the top so the sensual parts in this musical were just an extension of that,” he said. “Even though parts of it were risqué, it was an accurate representation of a 1930s Berlin club.”