Ready for a smart night of theater? If you’re looking for mindless entertainment, Cabaret Verboten is not for you. But the musical, now on stage in Delray Beach at The Theatre at Arts Garage, plays well to those who never shy away from the History and Current Events categories on Jeopardy. For Cabaret Verboten, you’d be wise to select: “I’ll take The Weimar Republic years for $1,000, Alex.” In order to fully understand and enjoy this night of intellectual cynicism, audience members need be knowledgeable about the atmosphere in Germany between the World Wars and be up-to-date, as well, on their current affairs. Cram if you must.
Less intellectual, but just as important to know about is the BYOW (Bring Your Own Whatever) policy at Arts Garage, or you will surely feel left out when you see your fellow audience members breaking out their own bottles of wine along with a spread of cheese and crackers.
With all that said, let’s talk a bit about Cabaret Verboten. The 80 minute theatrical experience is an unusual ditty. The show was first produced locally by Louis Tyrrell, the founder of Florida Stage. That was in 1996. Tyrrell is now artistic director at Theatre at Arts Garage. The original Cabaret Verboten, as creator Jeremy Lawrence says, was a faithful representation of the satirical sketches of the cabarets of Berlin. The sketches were arranged in chronological order against the rise of Hitler. The songs and sketches, by lyricists and composers such as Bertolt Brecht, Russian-born composer Mischa Spoliansky and his songwriting partner Kurt Schwabach, German comedian Werner Finck, and more, were crafted from translations of material written between 1920 and 1935 for the cabarets of Berlin.
What this all boils down to is a simple message that rings true: the more things change, the more things stay the same, especially in the world of government and politics, be it Germany in the 1920s and 1930s or the good ‘ol USA in 2012. With a tweak here and a tuck there, Cabaret Verboten has received a timely update. Lawrence, most times, is able to seamlessly fit contemporary references such as the 99 percenters of Occupy Wall Street or Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign slogan into the same set of lyrics that resound the hopes and the fears of Berliners almost 100 years ago.
There was nothing off limits to the cabaret writers then, and there’s nothing off limits still: stand your ground, unwanted pregnancy, Wall Street rip-offs, i.e. Bernie Madoff, gay marriage, cross dressing, shopaholism, and addictions of all kinds, all get equal treatment. Interestingly enough, many of these topical points come out of songs that were already in place: The Stock Exchange Song (1921), The Kleptomanic (1931); When the Special Girlfriend (1928); The Lavender Song (1920), and The Snag (1931). In fact, each song, whether peppered with a contemporary reference or left untouched recalls something current. In two instances, however, the modernizations seemed forced. A crack at Sarah Palin and a swipe at Mitt Romney’s treatment of his pooch would be more likely to be seen as part of a Saturday Night Live political skit than in this smarter-than-that piece.
This is also a show where the actors must understand the material, otherwise they can leave an audience dumbfounded. Thumbs up to this ensemble as this is a difficult show to perform for sure.
Wayne LeGette, who has won two Carbonell Awards and has a host of nominations for his outstanding performances in South Florida, plays the smarmy emcee. He also doubles as different characters throughout the show and in many sketches. However, his emcee dripped with such one-note sarcasm throughout, the portrayal rendered the character unlikeable. LeGette fared much better in the ensemble parts. His duet with Pierre Tannous in The Snag was a wonderful display, bringing to mind the famous (and difficult) “Who’s On First” routine from Abbott and Costello.
Tannous, a recent graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic University, kept up with the more experienced cast. He has one of the most challenging sketches early on, the hard sell Take It Off Petronella, a cross-dressers strip tease, but he performed it with panache.
Equally fearless is Alexa Green who has to sashay her way around the Cabaret “hall” for a provocative number that requires her to act as temptress to the men in the audience. (Some liked it hot, some didn’t.)
Veteran actress Lourelene Snedeker is the stand out of the cast. She’s absolutely frantic and fun as a woman addicted to shopping in The Kleptomaniac, and commands the stage in her solo, sprawled out on a settee as she sings about her vices in Shag Tobacco.
The three-piece band, conducted by Michael Yannette with Roy Fantel and Tom Jaworski is top-notch, and helps to keep the show moving at a clip.
While there are times that Cabaret Verboten is repetitive in its delivery, it is theater with an edge. So toast (with the glass in which you brought your “whatever” ) to The Theatre at Arts Garage and Louis Tyrrell for presenting a night that isn’t Theater for Dummies.
Cabaret Verboten runs through July 15 at The Theatre at Arts Garage, 180 N.E. First St., Delray Beach. 561-450-6357 or www.artsgarage.org.