I walked into Lotte Lehman Concert Hall on Friday, Jan. 18 expecting to sit in the seats I had once sat in as a freshman taking Music 15. To my surprise, everybody was ushered toward the stage. Behind the curtain, there were candlelit tables provided for seating. The packed room was filled with people excited to see “Cabaret,” a musical put on by the UCSB student-run musical theatre company called Shrunken Heads Production Company.
“Cabaret” is made up of flawed, but endearing characters, lingerie-clad night club performers set in a tense political period. The play — written by Joe Masteroff — ran for about two hours, during which the audience was entertained by cabaret music, choreographed dancing and well-cast actors.
On one side of the stage was the play’s live band, complete with a keyboard, clarinet, bassoon, violin, trumpet, trombone, bass, drums and saxophones. (Drummer Ben Donlon even wore a stylish black dress for the night’s festivities.) The mood was set: It was going to be a night of creativity and eccentricity.
“Cabaret’s” lingerie-clad emcee, played by Patrick Ryan Bailey, opened the show by welcoming us into the Kit Kat Klub with an energy and intensity that didn’t falter throughout the show. Clearly comfortable in the role, Bailey charmed the audience with his sass and relentless sexual innuendo.
“Cabaret” is a departure from the typically light and fluffy musical. It encourages the audience to consider the dangers of naïve compliance. A moral message is hammered in: It is up to us to do and say something about the injustices we see going on; keeping quiet won’t make them go away. The play’s timeless theme is as relevant today as it was in its 1930’s Berlin setting.
Perhaps the most surprising moment of the play is when Sally Bowles, played by Janessa Lea Puckett, cracks two eggs onstage, which Cliff (played by Kevin Mahn) eats. The witty banter and strong chemistry between Puckett’s and Mahn’s characters made up an amusing portion of the show. They were the two characters whose well-being concerned me most by the end of the show.
Despite having a seat toward the back of the room, I was still able to mostly see and hear the actors — which is always exciting for someone with a height of (almost) five feet, one inch. However, most of the scenes outside of the Kit Kat Klub were staged in such a way that forced me to keep my neck turned for a large portion of the show. The arrangement didn’t take much away from the play; it only caused a bit of bodily discomfort.
The first part of the show ended with a change in tone. Ludwig (played by Isaac Villa-Remijio), who was so friendly and helpful to Cliff in the beginning of the play, is revealed to be a Nazi. He causes a scene at an engagement party, disapproving of his friend’s Jewish fiancé. Standout actor Villa-Remijio gave a chilling and believable performance.
Things don’t get better for the characters after the intermission. The emcee’s charm and energy turns into simmering anger, complete with a black trench coat and crazy hair; couples argue and fight and Nazis beat up a main character.
At the end of the play the smiling emcee asks us, “Where are your troubles now? Forgotten?” He is right and he knows it. During the play, I managed to forget about my pounding headache and less than ideal seating. Instead, my mind was consumed by the fate of the characters — and those catchy tunes. The players of the Shrunken Heads Production Company did their job and did it well. “Cabaret” was poignant, seductive and successful.
A version of this article appeared on page 8 of January 24th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.