Gephardt Daily

Review: Utah Rep’s ‘Cabaret’ is dark, funny, sobering

Anne Louise Brings stars as Sally Bowles in Utah Rep’s “Cabaret.” Photo credit: Alex Weisman – IceWolf Photography

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Sept. 1, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Life is a cabaret at the Sorenson Unity Center, but only for this weekend and next.

Get your tickets soon if you want to see “Cabaret,” which director L.L. West envisoned a little differently than you’ve seen the John Kander/Fred Ebb musical done before.

First of all, the flamboyant, slightly sleazy emcee — traditionally played by a male who embraces his feminine side — in this production is played by a female, Teresa Sanderson, whose acting range is legendary in Utah.

Sanderson is gruff and bawdy as the emcee of the Kit Kat Club, a place for hedonists to indulge their appetites in the days before World War II, as the Nazis begin to gain a stronghold.

Johnny Hebda plays Cliff Bradshaw, written as an American and a would-be writer lacking focus and self-certainty. He has been seeking thrills and literary subject matter in bars across Europe.

And there’s bold-but-broken singer Sally Bowles, a Brit who seeks fame and her next boyfriend/sugar daddy, and who leaves behind her a trail of bad choices. Sally is played by Anne Louise Brings.

Anne Louise Brings, Teresa Sanderson, Johnny Hebda starr in Utah Rep’s “Cabaret.” Photo: Alex Weisman – IceWolf Photography

Add to that the Kit Kat girl and boys, dancers whose intense repertoire consists mainly of pelvic thrusts and splits, performed to the suggestive lyrics.

There’s a lot of fun to be had at a show like this.

The Kit Kat crew took full advantage of the playfully risque numbers, choreographed by Ashley Gardner-Carlson.

Hebda as Cliff looked highly polished and sounded confident, a different choice for this character. At least on opening night, Hebda did not seem to make a strong emotional connection with the characters in Cliff’s world.

Brings’ brought subtlety to the role played more famously and bombastically by Liza Minnelli. Brings was adept at conveying her character’s emotions and conflict. On opening night, she needed to turn up her volume and make her gestures a little bigger to reach the back row of the black box theater.

In a secondary story that brings some warmth to the chilling tale, Jane Luke plays landlady Fraulein Schneider and Michael Nielsen plays her potential beau, tenant Heir Schultz. Both were heartfelt and authentic in portraying their characters’ hopeful, late-in-life love, and the difficult choices forced by changing times.

But as the smirking, smug emcee, Sanderson stole much of the show, capturing attention each time she was on stage as either a star or a lurking observer. Her character’s sexual ambiguity was stronger in the first act, but weaker in the second act when her costumes became more feminine.

Also adding a lot of value and richness to this production was an on-stage “orchestra” of four musicians, including conductor Anne Puzey.

Despite a few weaknesses, including wandering accents, this production is well worth the ticket price for serious theater fans.

One tip: Don’t sit in the first couple rows or your view will be obstructed by those seated at cabaret tables — a major annoyance if a head bobber sits between you and the action.

Tickets are $20 for regular seating, $35 for table seating. Arrive early for best general-admission seating. Remaining shows are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. through Sept. 10, with a final show at 3 p.m. Sept. 11. The Sorenson Unity Center is at 1383 S. 900 West, Salt Lake City. For more information, click here.

Anne Louise Brings, Teresa Sanderson and Johnny Hebda star in Utah Rep’s “Cabaret.” Photo: Alex Weisman – IceWolf Photography