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Dancing into the dark

Posted by: Claude Peck under Music, Theater, Culture, Dance, People, Theaters, Tickets Updated: January 20, 2014 - 3:21 PM

Sally Bowles (Kira Lace Hawkins) and dancers in "Cabaret." The Theater Latte Da production features choreography by Michael Matthew Ferrell. Photo by Michal Daniel.

POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE

Choreographing for “Cabaret” must feel exhilarating and daunting. After all, whoever tackles this job is following in the footsteps of first Ronald Field and then Ron Marshall on Broadway, not to mention the legendary Bob Fosse on film. But Ivey award winner Michael Matthew Ferrell proves he is up to the task in the new production of the famed John Kander and Fred Ebb musical now playing at the Pantages Theatre. 

“Cabaret” captures a specific moment of time – the blinkered days leading into Hitler’s cruel domination of Germany and Europe. Berlin has an atmosphere of thrilling sleaziness but something far more ominous is brewing, and there’s nothing fun about it. The story evolves from carelessness into darkness, as if the entire city itself transitions from a playful dream into a years-long nightmare. Ferrell picks up on this pivotal transition in his choreography for the Peter Rothstein-directed staging, produced by Theatre Latte Da and Hennepin Theatre Trust.

Because “Cabaret” takes place in a underground nightclub, the dancing is sexy-as-all-get-out, propelled by pelvic thrusts, swaying hips and nearly bare bottoms. It would be easy to rely on a stock bump-and-grind approach for the early musical numbers but Ferrell’s movement choices consciously hint at the danger to come.

Tyler Michaels as the Emcee is a sneering, audience-teasing, glittery dynamo and often joins in with the bawdy chorus who stomp through their paces with a frankly impatient sensuality. They aren’t in jackboots (yet) but there’s clearly a force afoot to transform these hedonists into either enemies or allies of the state (“Mein Herr” with its militaristic forcefulness, led by the gutsy Kira Lace Hawkins as Sally Bowles is a prime example).

Ferrell completes these connections with his movement choices in the second act. A high-kicking chorus line devolves into goose-stepping and Nazi salutes. Partygoers waltz prettily before joining in with Fraulein Kost’s (Aeysha Kinnunen) rendition of the chilling hymn “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Michaels and a monkey-suited dancer happily hoof toward a horrific climax: “If you could see her through my eyes … she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” The Emcee can only make such a joke in a society primed to accept it so the combination of the upbeat tap dancing and the deadly statement is all the more rattling.

Ferrell, along with Rothstein, exposes the beating heart of “Cabaret.” It’s a story about transitory liberation, about abandoning troubles at the door, about being true to one’s self, others be damned. But of course we all ignore our surroundings at our own peril. We can only dance so long before the music stops playing.

“Cabaret” ends February 9. For further information visit www.hennepintheatretrust.org 

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