Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Tel Aviv Cameri Theatre's production of "Cabaret"

Itay Tiran (Photo:Elizur Reuveni)
The musical “Cabaret” is based on Christopher Isherwood’s short novel “Goodbye to Berlin” (1939).  (British author Isherwood actually lived in Berlin from 1929 to 1933. The novel sums up his observations of the deteriorating political- and social situation in Germany.) Following John van Druten’s 1951 setting of it as a stage play, titled “I Am a Camera”, the 1966 Broadway production of “Cabaret”, with music by John Kander to Fred Ebb’s lyrics, was the vision of Broadway director Hal Prince, who saw its relevance to the riots of the civil rights movement in the United States. Then there was the memorable 1972 film of “Cabaret”, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey. The Cameri Theatre, Tel Aviv’s municipal playhouse, first staged “Cabaret” in 1990. The present version, directed by Cameri artistic director Omri Nitzan, opened in October 2011, has extended its season way beyond expectation and is continuing to play to full houses. In the 2012 Israel Theater Awards, it took the awards for Play of the Year and Best Musical; Itay Tiran (cabaret host) won Best Actor Award, Roni Toren won Best Set Design and Omri Nitzan Best Director. The Hebrew translation is that of Eli Bijaoui. Javier de Frutos did the choreography; costume design Orna Smorgonsky, musical direction Yossi Ben Nun. This writer attended the performance on February 3rd, 2013.

The setting is Berlin on the eve of the Third Reich. The performance opens at the campy, decadent Kit Kat Klub, its artists introduced by the leering, epicene master of ceremonies (Itay Tiran). A penniless American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Aki Avni) arrives in Berlin to look for a subject for his next book. At the sleazy Kit Kat Klub he meets and falls in love with the sad and flighty English chanteuse and hostess Sally Bowles (Ola Schur-Selektar). The hopelessly mismatched Cliff and Sally drift in this happy but desperate milieu as the situation in Germany is fast turning ugly. Meanwhile, Clifford’s spinster landlady Fräulein Schneider (Miki Kam) becomes engaged to her tenant and admirer Herr Schultz (Gadi Yagil), an equally conservative greengrocer – not an easy decision, given the increasing influence of the Nazis. An engagement party takes place, in the middle of which Ernst (Uri Ravitz), the man Cliff met and befriended on a train, arrives wearing a Nazi armband. Fräulein Schneider ends up breaking off the engagement to the Jewish Herr Schultz for fear of losing her license. Clifford realizes that he has been inadvertently helping the Nazis by delivering packages to Paris for Ernst. The American writer ends up returning to the United States, but Sally, after aborting their baby, still believing that “life is a cabaret” decides to stay in Berlin. The musical ends with the emcee reminding the audience that he had promised that they would forget their troubles. Clifford now has a subject for his book: “There was a cabaret and there was a master of ceremonies…and there was a city called Berlin in a country called Germany…and it was the end of the world…and I was dancing with Sally Bowles and we were both fast asleep…”

The Cameri’s production revolves around Itay Tiran’s charismatic and sparkling performance as he manipulates the life and characters of the Kit Kat Klub (and us) to the point at which Nazism and eroticism meet. Holding the audience in the palm of his hand, Tiran’s body language, his clean, unmannered singing and feisty authority embody the life of the cabaret, its smut, its risqué excitement and its saving graces in hard times. The audience is delighted by the performance’s fast-moving pace, its uncluttered, pleasingly understated set designs, its polished singing, dancing and costumes and probably, no less, by the glimpse into the permissive “other’ Berlin of the 1930s. Tiran has what it takes – his stage personality has much charisma and daring, too. Petite Ola Schur-Selektar is convincing in enacting Sally Bowles with her dreams and desperate hopes of becoming rich; she performs her big numbers with impressive vocal assurance. Aki Avni’s performance preserves Cliff Bradshaw’s blind- and endearing naiveté, almost comical but also touching and very real, considering his own bisexual past and the company he is now keeping in Berlin’s hotbed of perversity. Irit Kaplan is well cast as Fräulein Schneider’s promiscuously clad, comedic, whorish and incorrigible tenant, Fräulein Kost. Yet Kost is, in effect, a deceivingly tragic figure, representing the economic problems facing the 1930s that leave her with no choice but to sell her body to survive.  Far away from the glitzy world of the cabaret, veteran actors Miki Kam and Gadi Yagil are authentic and convincing in their portrayal of ordinary people caught up in life’s relationships and dilemmas. Their dream of being a married couple looks hopeful as they take off in a pineapple-shaped hot air balloon.

The Cameri’s production - from Roni Toren’s imaginative and meaningful stage design showing newspaper clippings and street pictures of the time to the very fine instrumental ensemble of mostly women “even our orchestra is beautiful” placed high on a moving platform, to the scantily clad, well trained dancers, to the extras who create the effect of the general public in Berlin – is polished and succinct. Omri Nitzan has re-edited the musical, moving round scenes and songs. He pulls out all the plugs when it comes to various touches reflecting the morals of the Kit Kat Klub artists and Fräulein Kost: he is stating rather than judging without being offensive. The general effect is that we, as Israelis seated in the auditorium, lap up the entertainment, relishing every familiar song, unthreatened until the last moment by where the plot is leading - to the rise of Nazism and its consequences. We are brought to our senses with the horror of seeing Ernst’s armband and Avni’s stinging utterance of wisdom “If you are not against them, you are with them”. 

The Cameri’s present production of “Cabaret” is musical theatre of the highest standard. Not to be missed!!!

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