As current news is dominated with daily headlines of religious and political forces demanding laws that restrict the basic civil liberties and equal rights of certain citizens, I can think of no modern theatrical production more relevent today than the groundbreaking and heartbreaking classic called "Cabaret."
The Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse has bravely stepped into the firing line and created an excellent production that can’t help but share the message that everyone deserves individuality and dignity and when we don’t stand up for freedom, society will surely suffer.
Executive Director Dr. Anastacia Hawkins-Smith said, "’Cabaret’ is a very adult production. The theme of ’Cabaret’ reminds us of the terrible things that happened to the Jewish people and homosexual people during that time period."
The Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse production of "Cabaret" was one of the most inspiring and touching shows I have seen in a long, long time.
"Cabaret" debuted on Broadway in 1966, winning multiple Tony Awards including Best Musical. The 1972 movie of "Cabaret" earned eight Academy Awards.
"Cabaret" is set just as the Nazis are gaining power in Germany prior to World War II. The storyline centers around a group of eclectic characters at the Kit Kat Klub and Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house. For many, life is a cabaret! They live for the day and turn a blind eye to the rising Nazi menace growing all around them. As the play progresses, they will no longer have that luxury.
The show opens with Benjamin Cox performing the Emcee’s song and dance "Willkommen." Cox and ensemble clearly set the tone and warned the audience that the production would be both risqué and filled with tongue-in-cheek humor.
Benjamin Cox shined as the Emcee. His jet-black wig and dark eyeliner gave him a stunningly provocative handsomeness reminiscent of a young Rob Lowe.
As the Emcee introduces us to the Kit Kat Klub performers, we meet several gender-bending characters. Just moments into the opening act, we meet lesbians Rosie and Lulu as well as a dancer described as a "cunning linguist." We also meet several Kit Kat "boys" who may be homosexual or bisexual.
Jonathan Goforth portrays Clifford Bradshaw -- an American writer traveling through Berlin who tragically falls in love with Kit Kat Klub performer Sally Bowles.
Lisa-Marie Rhodes portrayal of Bowles gave the audience insight into a character who is willfully ignorant and unwilling to face anything unpleasant in life. She abandons Bradshaw, who wants nothing more than to love her.
She aborts their unborn child that offered her hope for the future. She turns a blind eye to the growing Nazi menace around her. Rhodes’ vocal performance of the title song "Cabaret" was intensely emotional and one of her best scenes in the production.
Judy Edwards portrays Fräulein Schneider, an elderly widow who runs a boarding house in which several of the characters live. She is being wooed by an elderly widower, Herr Schultz.
Brian Smith portrays Herr Schultz, an elderly widower and fruit shop owner who falls in love with Fraulein Schneider. Unfortunately, their love is doomed as the Nazis begin to terrorize him because of his Jewish heritage.
As hush came over the audience as Judy Edwards’ Fraulein Schneider sang the haunting "What would you do?" about whether to take a chance on love with the Jewish Herr Schultz. The song’s theme seems especially fitting today.
Do you stand up for the rights and basic human dignity of a society’s scapegoats and suffer possible retribution and hardship yourself or do you pretend not to see and allow others to be abused and discriminated against? Fraulein Schneider chooses the latter and throws away the love of her life in order to fit in with her Nazi neighbors and friends. We all know how that ended.
But Fraulein Schneider does not deserve all the blame for their situation. Sadly, Herr Shchultz states "What is it to us after all? It’s just politics," as he refuses to admit to himself that the growing political party’s bigotry will soon mean his death.
Larwence M. Mazza portrays the completely detestable Ernst Ludwig -- a Nazi who torments and abuses everyone who he deems inferior or who disagrees with his politics. He tries to lure American Clifford Bradshaw into his web. When Bradshaw fights back, Ludwig has Bradshaw severely beaten by Nazi thugs.
Lindsey Miner portrays Fräulein Kost, a prostitute who rents a room in Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house and reveals herself to be a vindictive opportunist willing to step on anyone to move herself ahead. She betrays the Jewish Herr Schultz to the Nazis.
The closing moments of the show are some of the most shocking in modern theater history. Benjamin Cox was magnificent as the tear-stained Emcee who faced the audience to cast off his black wig to reveal the shaven head of an abused prisoner. He then cast off his coat to reveal a concentration camp prisoner’s uniform adorned with a yellow star patch and a pink triangle patch identifying his "crimes" of being both a Jew and a homosexual.
Tears and makeup streamed down Cox’s face as drums began an execution drum roll and the stage lights dropped to black at the sound of gunfire.
The audience responded with a standing ovation.