My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage



by Drew Rowsome
Photos by Seanna Kennedy

What good is sitting alone in your room? Be seduced by Cabaret.

This will be the last time that I refer to the Lower Ossington Theatre as "ambitious." I first applied the now overused label with Avenue Q (which is still running years later and is still "fast, funny and subversive." And slickly done), and repeated myself as LOT tackled the stalwart Rent, the brilliantly campy Little Shop of Horrors, an almost Broadway-esque Shrek! The Musical, and the very difficult and daring Next to Normal. At this point it is no surprise that their production of the classic Cabaret is a solid evening of thought-provoking and well-crafted theatre.

The problem with Cabaret itself is not the songs - just try not to be belting under your breath as you leave - but with the tension between the cabaret performers, particularly Sally Bowles, having to be tawdry and less-than-talented as the plot demands, but also talented enough to sell the songs and the magic. By mixing and matching from the original production, the film, and the recent revival, director Jeremy Hutton finds a balance that is perfect for LOT's space restrictions but also pushes the story to the forefront while never sacrificing the razzle dazzle. The first sight of a swastika still shocks, and the ending catches in the audience's throats, but everyone leaves with one of the numbers earwormed into their brains.

By now LOT has built up a repertory company of solid and strong talent. The cast, numbering 16, tackle the songs and drama with enthusiasm and casual confidence in their considerable skills. The big dance numbers are hampered by the size of the stage - there are one or two too many kick lines when a little Fosse is needed - but that is more than offset by the intimacy. It was particularly delightful to turn the set changes into cabaret numbers with constant flirtation from the ensemble luring the audience closer, while never distracting from the rapidly escalating tension of the plot.

Kylie McMahon has the toughest role - not only is she required to tackle a star role with most of the big numbers, but she also has to compete with the lingering ghost of Liza Minnelli's starmaking turn. McMahon, who has been stellar in totally disparate roles in Next to Normal and Little Shop of Horrors, creates a Sally Bowles who is unique while still retaining the character's innocent desire to be decadent. It all looks so easy until she launches into the eleven o'clock number and title song. Finally McMahon gets her chance to shine and she does it by playing the character with honesty instead of revelling in the number's powerful melody and, in sheer Mama Rose style, winds up blowing the roof off and breaking the audience's hearts.

David Light has the corn-fed Corbin Fisher-esque looks to make Cliff Bradshaw immediately appealing but sadly the role is mainly reactive so he doesn't get to strut. However he shines in a delicious duet with the Emcee that brings all the simmering gay subtext tension to a boil. And every time Light sings or executes a massive but naturalistic mood swing, we see just how much star power he is keeping in check in service of the production and grounding the proceedings in verisimilitude.

Cabaret is a very sexy show with titillation being one of the major themes. The chorus is suitably tarty and naughty with Phil Skala as the horniest of the chorus boys, gleefully mugging suggestively. The youthful energy of LOT is supplemented by Jacqueline Martin and Don Berns as the other doomed romance that drives the plot. Berns is fondly remembered by many as the voice of the late great CFNY and his sonorous voice is still intact and tactilely tuneful, he is a sweet amiable DILF.

Of course the core of Cabaret, and the role on which a production rises or falls, is the Emcee who acts as a narrator, instigator and Cassandra. Adam Norrad who delights in sexually provocative roles from Frank-N-Furter to Trekkie Monster, dives into the Emcee role, playing it not as androgynous or ambiguous but as flat out omnivorously sexual. The audience is initially unnerved before being beguiled but his very physical - Norrad is a flashy dancer - performance and presence arouses. By the time he applies a smoky Dietrich rasp to his voice to explain that "I Don't Care Much," the audience is completely desirous of a character who just may be evil incarnate. The push and pull that the lust creates is the heart of Cabaret and, while we can't resist the cabaret, we are seduced into confronting our own moral centre.

Cabaret continues until at least Sun, Feb 23 at the Lower Ossington Theatre, 100A Ossington Ave.