On rare, magical occasions in theater, an audience will be so captivated, invested and affected by what's happening on stage that they will be stunned into a charged silence. It happened twice during Idaho Shakespeare Festival's production of Cabaret. In fact, it routinely happens twice each performance.
It is testament to the power of a production that is at once engrossing, disturbing and moving--not words often used when describing a musical. But just because there is song and dance doesn't mean a musical can't carry an emotional and moral wallop. Those who are only familiar with the movie version of Cabaret may be a bit shocked to discover the more controversial themes that fill the stage production.
Set in Berlin, Germany, in the early 1930s as the Nazi party was rising to power, the play explores themes of sexuality, hatred, power and life on the fringe. But overall, Cabaret deals with truths, uncomfortable truths, truths that we hide from others and even ourselves and unpleasant truths that we sometimes try to ignore.
With openly gay and bisexual characters, prostitution, abortion, drugs, alcohol and Nazis, this is a very grown-up musical, but one that entertains as much as it forces audiences to think on a more profound level.
Jodi Dominick stars as Sally Bowles, the star of the Kit Kat Klub (no, not the Meridian institution) for whom life is one big party and consequences are not to be bothered with. Eduardo Placer plays the Master of Ceremonies, an effeminate force of nature whose high-energy approach leads the audience through silly highs before turning dark on a dime. Both Dominick and Placer have spent several seasons with ISF, but these roles are standout performances for both. Dominick's powerful voice drives the production, while Placer commands the stage and holds the audience in the palm of his well-manicured hand.
Neil Brookshire provides needed grounding as Clifford Bradshaw, a bi-curious American who falls in love with Sally but who can't ignore the shadows that the Nazis are beginning to cast across society.
Wonderful supporting performances are turned in by ISF newcomer John Woodson and veteran Laura Perrotta, as well as Sara M. Bruner, who is a little bit scary in this production. Musical director Matthew Webb and costume designer Charlotte Yetman create a rich tapestry for the ears and eyes.
Last season, ISF pushed audiences out of their comfort zones with the quirky Bat Boy: The Musical, and this season the company is making sure crowds don't get too cozy again with a production that is well worth experiencing.