By Joseph Geha
By Jonathan Kiefer
By Katie Tandy
By Mollie McWilliams
By Jennifer Baires
By Jonathan Curiel
By Sherilyn Connelly
Bricktop's problem relates more to the single-minded pace of the production. There are very few changes in tone in this musical. Besides "Mabel's Lament" a lovely, slow solo sung by the silk lamé-voiced C. Kelly Wright as Mercer, and an equally rich tri-harmonied version of the Jacques Brel classic "Ne Me Quitte Pas" performed by Wright, Blow, and Michelle E. Jordan as Hunter, the entire work steams forward like a runaway train. As a result, it's difficult to orient ourselves in the story. At one moment, we're in Chicago, the next we're in Paris, the next we're in Rome. Barely allowing us to get over the jetlag, the musical glosses over crucial world-changing events like World War II. Watching showgirl Carla Punch goose-step across the stage for a couple of minutes in black rubber hot pants simply isn't enough to suggest the encroaching danger of the Third Reich. We're left with a feeling for the glamour and excitement of Smith's life, but have little sense of her struggle. With only few ups and downs to create shape, the musical remains bizarrely flat despite the energetic performances.
There's a paradox in the lyric, "life is a cabaret, old chum." Set in a Berlin club during the Weimar Republic, John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical Cabaret gets at the essential contradiction between the cabaret as a place of hedonistic refuge and as a place where the real world is exposed, through subversive songs and savage banter, in even more frightening colors than reality. By focusing on pure entertainment at the expense of telling a story, Bricktop ends up showing us a good time but doesn't deliver the punch that it might. If the art of cabaret hasn't changed much over the decades, it's ultimately because of its pungent ability to shield us from the world and taunt us with it at the same time.
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