National Theater School of Canada stuns with production of ‘Cabaret’

Content warning: mentions of fascism, anti-Semitism and genocide.

From February 22 to 26, the National Theater School of Canada (NTS) of the Class of 2022 put together an outstanding production of the 1966 musical Cabaret. Choreographed by award-winning director Matjash Mrozewskithe play featured a cast of graduate theater students and a production team made up of students, teachers, and alumni.

Established in Montreal since 1960, the ENT is an internationally renowned theater training school. Their annual production, put together by graduating students from the theater program, showcases the skills acquired during their school years.

For the class of 2022, Mrozewski chose the musical Cabaret to reflect on the importance of experiencing pleasure during dark times in history, which he says is especially relevant today.

“Life in Weimar Berlin was chaotic, stressful and turbulent, how could you not want to seek joy, transcendence, euphoria and escape?” Mrozewski wrote in the play’s program.

Cabaret takes place in the late 1920s, in Berlin’s Jazz Age. Seeking inspiration for his next novel, young American writer Cliff (Henry Beasley) travels to the city, where he befriends German smuggler Ernst Ludwig (Charles Brien) and British cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Kira Chisholm).

From the fictional Kit Kat Club a cabaret set in Cliff’s rented room in a boarding house, the play explores political tension in Germany after the rise of the Nazi Party, while tackling themes of anti-Semitism, feminism and gay rights.

Mrozewski fully embraces Cabaret‘s queerness, unapologetically celebrating the characters’ fluidity in their sexuality and gender. Although Cliff is explicitly bisexual in the original text, some productions of Cabaret were reluctant to openly portray his sexuality. Mrozewski, however, fully immerses himself in this aspect, not only with Cliff, who is romantically involved with Bobby (Blake Pyne) but also with the emcee (Brandon Lee Carabin) and Herr Schultz (Anaka Sandhu). In the production of the NTS, the song two ladies, sung by the emcee about his polyamorous lifestyle, now features a cabaret boy and a cabaret girl instead of the usual two girls. Herr Schultz’s character also defies gender norms through a fantastic performance by Sandhu, who is also non-binary.

Costume designer James Lavoie skillfully chronicled the musical’s social issues through his scenic visuals. The outfits of the cabaret members remain monochromatic throughout, with the exception of Sally’s, whose extravagant wardrobe perfectly showcases her outgoing, diva personality. The use of black and white costumes made the eventual reveal of Ernst’s bright red swastika armband all the more striking. In the closing scene, Lavoie dresses the emcee in a uniform worn by concentration camp prisoners hidden under his coat, a twist that gives the musical a chilling conclusion.

To support a minimalist set consisting of two concrete walls, the students set up a fascinating show of lights and projections, using projectors to present archival images of 1930s Berlin. The parallel between the performance and the The scenic art adds a touch of realism to the narrative of the play.

Globally, Cabaret was incredibly well done. With the talents involved in the NTS student-led production Cabaret, the Canadian theater scene will certainly not be short of remarkable performers or producers.

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