Cabaret Musical Stuns at Center for Performing Arts

by Kevin T McEneaney

There are times when a prior historical period shadows telling parallels to the present. Unfortunately, this is true now. If you are familiar with the 1972 film Cabaret (one of the most successful transplanting of an American musical to film), then you don’t really know the 1966 play, which was based upon the 1951 play I am a Camera by John Van Druten, which was based upon two early novellas by Christopher Isherwood: Sally Bowles (1937) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939). This play is the real event.

This local production at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, under the detailed and accomplished Direction of Peter Risafi (with Wendy-Urban Mead as assistant director), makes historical parallels to the rise of the Nazi party with a current frisson that is positively electric.

The play falls under the category of tragic-comedy; the first act is whimsical humor while the second act presents trenchant tragedy with wounded hearts. Laughter and weeping offer the old see-saw of history.

The heart of any musical remains the singing, which in this production is boisterous and amusing, then descends into well-earned pathos. Amber McCarthy’s closing song “Cabaret” as Sally Bowles is alone worth the price of admission; yet here is cast of nineteen actors (plus a few extras), a garland of musicians, a great stage set with invisible technicians, and a dozen or more dance numbers that will tickle your toes. Under the wonderful choreography of Jordan Stroly, the polished dancing (and wicked gesturing) of raunchy Emcee Mary Kate Barnett, Emily Nicole Argento, Cedric James, and Jalen Carr, and several others enhance the off-key humor of the play.

Michael Risio as Cliff, the novelist protagonist, registers naïve ambition yet convincingly manages to grasp reality. Andy Crispell as elderly Herr Schultz pulses with sensitivity and hope while Stephany Hitchcock exudes confusion and resigned fatalism. Harrison Mark as the Nazi smuggler supplies sinister undertone. Erin Herbert as Fräulein Kost , the prostitute who specializes in sailors, delivers unabashed humor. The stage set by Richard Prouse is magnificent. It takes a committed community to pull off such a polished production. Photos by Olivia Michaels.

This delightful, thrilling, memorable, and extraordinary production runs through January 28. Some shows may already be sold out. For more information or tickets go to

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear, Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo, and other books