Willkomen, Beinvenue, Welcome, Im Cabaret, Au Cabaret, To Cabaret!

So life is disappointing, forget it! In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful. Leave your troubles outside and welcome to Hart House Theatre’s production of Cabaret!

Set in Berlin during the rise of Nazi Germany, the cabaret is an oasis where people can go to escape reality. This particular escape takes place in the dark and sexy underground Kit Kat Club as told by the club’s lanky and pale Emcee (Michael David Blostein) as he welcomes struggling American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Keenan Viau) into the free for all seductive life of sex, drugs, booze and music that is the foundation of the fantasy of cabaret.

It is here that Clifford meets English cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Courtney Lamanna), who pulls him further into her glamorous world. Sally moves in with Clifford at the boarding house where he is staying and the two weave into the budding romance between boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider (Renée Stein) and a Jewish fruit seller, Herr Shultz (Don Berns), all the while trying to earn enough money to pay rent and find their place in the ever changing Germany.

In the cabaret, anything goes and the dynamic performances in this production stick to that motto. Radiant Sally Bowles is a complex character, seductive and sweet and a monumental role filled by none other than Liza Minnelli in the 1970’s film adaptation. Those are some big shoes to fill, but Courtney Lamanna steps up to the challenge.

We first saw Lamanna as Wendla in the Lower Ossington Theatre’s production of Spring Awakening, a role in which she had to feign naivety and innocence, which seemed to repress your abilities as an up and coming actor. As Sally Bowles, however, Lamanna had her chance to let her personality shine through. With a booming voice and ability to emote passionately, Lamanna proves that she deserves the rise to a bigger spotlight from a bigger stage in a bigger theatre.

It’s Emcee Blostein, however, that steals the spotlight for most of the show. The shameless, dark storyteller lurks around the stage, dipping his hand in everyone’s business with perfect comedic timing and a magnetic presence. Despite looking like the walking dead, there was something magically alluring about his over the top performance.

Much like what you would imagine a cabaret to be like, the stage was framed by chorus members donning sexy burlesque attire, bordering on a fantasy of dominatrix meets traditional German clothing (think lederhosen or black taped Nazi symbols over nipples). There’s lots of leather. Lots of exposed skin in ordinarily covered areas. With lots of vivid involvement between characters, it’s an erotic tryst and a mighty fine distraction from all those troubles you’re told to leave behind.

Cabaret will transport you to a different time and into a different world. A world in which you might have trouble leaving. But it’s an experience that stays with you well after the fact. After all, life is a cabaret, old chum and we love a cabaret!

Cabaret is at the Hart House Theatre until January 28, 2012. Tickets $10.00 to $25.00 and are available by phone 416.978.8849 or visit UofTtix.ca

Images from Hart House Theatre by Daniel DiMarco