Sunday, September 23, 2012

CABARET - The Freefall Theater, St. Petersburg, FL

After so many years of enjoying the theater on London's West End, and with a predisposition towards disguises, ruses and the like, Watson and I over the years have attended many of the best performances in the theater that this fine country has to offer. From the exemplary performance of George Rose in 'The Pirates of Penzance" at the Marriott Marquis Theater in Times Square 100 years ago to the more recent stunning exhibition this year by Nina Arianda at New York's Lyceum Theater in "Venus in Fur",  our penchant for fine theater takes us far and wide in search of such excellence.

It was on just such a foray that we found ourselves inside The Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg, FL recently for a performance of 'Cabaret' at the invitation of our dear friends Dr. Juan de Tarpone and his vibrant wife Lady Cynthia who suggested this as an opportunity to get together after too-long a respite and reacquaint ourselves with both the Theatre and with each other.

Being our first visit to the Freefall Theater on Central Ave. (located on West Central and halfway to Treasure Island, not as I was first believed in downtown St. Pete.) we arrived 10 minutes early and were pleased to see a well stocked adult beverage bar service of fine wines, an plethora of bottled beer selections, cocktails for those more adventurous, and an assortment of minor confections (yet regrettably no fine pipe tobacco.) So with fine libations in hand, we retrieved our tickets from will-call.

Upon entering the theater we were pleased to see that our seats were actually a 4 person 'table' within the 'Cabaret' itself, thrusting us and many other patrons directly into the experience. As the house lights dimmed we noticed a character enter and, without a word spoken for almost 5 minutes, slowly and almost in pantomime took us thru his mental anguish, his memory haunting him of his past within the now darkened theater..... facial expressions and despair clearly in place...........enthralling(!) was this introduction and portended the gift of what was to come!

With an inventive little set that completely transports you fully into the environs imagined, from train car, hotel flat and hallway, marketplace, and Berlin nightspot, it was a well done design that gave the viewer a clear sense of belief and not 'small theater production'.

But the beauty of this show was clearly in the performances themselves. Our Emcee, performed by David Mann (he of exasperated and painful memory above) completely owned this show. His fine hand permeated the stage every time he made an appearance (which was often) and controlled the aura in such a subtle yet strong way that you were of the belief that this one character was the steel beam giving rigidity to the entire 'building'. Easily one of the best acting displays I have seen in Florida over the last 20+ years AND better than many Broadway performances Watson and I have seen. SPLENDID!

Yet no less intriguing was the role of Sally Bowles, performed delightfully by Ms. Jennifer Byrne, whose role started lightly and continued to gain steam the whole show until it literally exploded in the namesake final song and stunned all of us with a set of pipes that even cruise ships would be most envious of.

Literally all of the performances in this production were exemplary and transportive. Roxanne Fay's Fraulein Schneider had Watson reminiscing about Mrs. Hudson back at 221-B Baker St. while the excellent and sinewy saunterings of the dancers in the show (the very limber Haley Schneider, the sultry Megan Morgan, and the deliciously saucy Heather Baird) reminded me of some of my more pleasureable times at The Hippodrome on Charring Cross Rd. near Picadilly Circus. With all of these actors, you 'believed' each characterization and WERE transported to Nazi Germany in the 1930's......... and what more can you ask of a production than this suspension of belief? This is the epitome of good theater.......

As a limited run I would implore all who enjoy great theater that THIS is a production you will remember for a LONG TIME and you should run, not walk, to get tickets while they are still available!

Now off to another case!