Kelsey is a Chicago based producer, actor, writer, critic, and mixologist. An alum of Black Box Acting’s ACADEMY Program, Kelsey curates “The Newness,” a monthly salon of new work. They also work closely with Trans Voices Cabaret Chicago as well as Chicago Theatre Access Auditions. Follow them on Insta! @playsandpours, @kelseylooks
Pictured: Greg Mills & Rebecca Sohn. Photo by Liz Scheiner.
Review: CABARET at No Stakes Theatre Project
By Kelsey McGrath
The No Stakes Theatre Project lives up to its namesake with its current production of CABARET. I don’t need to summarize this show for you. You know it. And in 2017, you wouldn’t think a musical about the rise of Nazi Germany would be relevant. But here we are.
Despite the opportunity to create art in conversation with the times, No Stakes’ CABARET stifles itself with awkward casting choices, inconsistent directing, and a messy aesthetic. It was the minimum for a musical with such intense given circumstances.
Actress Rebecca Sohn takes the lead as Sally Bowles. Though filled with ferocity, Sohn reads as a middle-aged woman. This choice was unacknowledged on stage and in program. It felt like a miscast. After further research, this choice was inspired by No Stakes’ Season Three Actor Initiative. This approach “promises to overcome the limitations of typecasting by providing actors with the opportunity to take their education into their own hands.” And while this is a fascinating idea, the company did not provide any literature or initiate conversation to supplement the show-going experience. So, did this choice challenge the typecast? Sure. But it could have been a more enriching experience. A Sally Bowles and Fräulein Schneider in a similar age range allows space for unexplored emotional interplay among leading women.
Directing and aesthetic are linked here. As it goes, the Kit Kat Club is a place of escape and wonder and excitement and desire and temptation, a stark contrast to its brutal surroundings. It’s a haven and inside, gyrating deities. None such was the case here. This production’s aesthetic remained the same throughout, adhering to a modest black/beige/burgundy color scheme. The Club matched Fräulein Schneider’s tenant building, both of which were reminiscent of a funeral home. This alone zapped a tremendous amount of energy from the show. While spunky Emcee Hannah Starr and ensemble members Catherine LaRocca, Alex Madda, Chase McIntoush, Chelsea Milligan, and Jessica Paramo kill it, the surreal essence of the Kit Kat Club is no where to be found.
Throughout the show, I felt awkward. In such a small space, awkwardness cannot be contained. The discomfort seemed rooted in an ignorance of the given circumstances that permeated through the blocking, acting, and design. The stakes were not high enough to burst into song. CABARET can’t burst, when there are No Stakes.