Herndon High School
With a discordant crash of cymbals and a dizzying burst of lights, the crooked marquee of the Kit Kat Klub flickers on. Here, at least for tonight, everything is beautiful. And taking center stage is a gripping story of desperation, human nature, and the lengths one will go to survive. Willkommen, bienvenue, to Walt Whitman High School’s stunning production of Cabaret.
Cabaret, written by Joe Masteroff and with music from John Kander and Fred Ebb, premiered in 1966 and was an instant, albeit controversial, hit. Its story is adapted from the semi-autobiographical works of Christopher Isherwood, which centers on Weimar-era Berlin. The simple synopsis is that an American, Clifford Bradshaw, comes to stay in the city and falls in love with the nightclub performer Sally Bowles. But the real message of the show lurks in every shadowy corner of the cabaret, where the Nazis are slowly coming to power. Ultimately, the tangled relationship between Clifford and Sally is merely a mirror for German society as whole.
Walt Whitman’s production dazzled with every number, guiding its audience through the dizzying highs and the desperate lows of Berlin’s jazz scene. The dedication of every member of the cast and crew was evident. The show sucked its unsuspecting viewers in with ease, only to spit them right back out at the end like a bite of rotten fruit. And this chilling combination of decadence and disillusionment was in large part thanks to the enthralling Emcee (Ryan Robbins).
Robbins, narrating the story as it happened, was compelling, charismatic, and terrifying. From the moment the Emcee’s stuffy suit was ripped off, revealing a shimmering outfit underneath, it was clear who had top billing at the Kit Kat Klub. Robbins’ vocals commanded every song, belting out note after note in the fast-paced club numbers- but openly shining in the haunting darkness of “I Don’t Care Much,” where the Emcee’s inner anguish rose to the surface. Just as electrifying was Samantha Sanders as Sally Bowles, who truly sang like a nightclub star. Sanders’ performance, too, had its emotional climax, in the magnificent “Cabaret.” Sanders began to break down, sobbing and hyperventilating, all the while belting about the joy of living without a care in the world. The rest of the club slowly consumed Sally’s figure, a crowd of terror awash in red light.
Only adding to the layers of the story was Elizabeth Abbott as Fraulein Schneider, a kind but firm landlady falling into a doomed love. While short with patrons and even stricter with their guests, Schneider was gentle and sweet with Herr Schultz (Adam Browning), a fruit vendor. Abbott and Browning created a relationship that was beautifully fragile, as rare as a gift of a pineapple in a paper bag.
Robbins’ Emcee repeatedly reminded the audience that everyone at the club was beautiful- “even the orchestra is beautiful”- but the cohesion of the ensemble, and their backstage counterparts, already made that clear. The Whitman Pit Orchestra indeed gave a stunning performance, elevating the emotion of Sally’s songs with each crash of drums or crescendo of strings. Colin Frankel, Maya Kawamoto, and the Sound Team expertly mixed the orchestra’s talent with the audio from performers. Ella Gontkovic, Alyssa Hodor, and the Lighting Team immersed the club in bloody reds and flickering shadows, contrasting with the buzzingly bright, hand-built Kit Kat Klub sign.
Every performance has a finale, and all of Walt Whitman’s students’ work culminated in a chillingly powerful finish. It is only in the darkness of the club that one can see the world for what it is: a glamorous, fragile fantasy.
Langley High School
The cabaret is picture-perfect. The lights are bright and the girls are divine, and the jazzy orchestra just drowns out the troubles of the world for an evening. For most, the cabaret is an escape, but for Sally Bowles - it’s everyday. It's life. But the sound of dangerous change in Berlin begins to bleed a fabulous life into one of regret, as Walt Whitman High School beautifully represents the transition of German society with the rise of Nazi ideals.
The original production of "Cabaret," based on the book by Joe Masteroff, came alive on Broadway on November 20, 1966, at the Broadhurst Theatre. This tale of 1930’s Berlin follows the story of a flamboyant Sally Bowles (Samantha Sanders), a captivating performer at the Kit Kat Klub, and her unlikely love affair with the writer Clifford Bradshaw (Joseph Akinyoyenu). However, the world around them is beginning to shift to a sinister shell of itself, and the hot live music of the Kit Kat Klub is no longer loud enough to drown out the rise and support of the Nazi regime throughout Germany. When the dangers of antisemitism begin knocking on Sally and Clifford’s acquaintances’ door, Fraulein Schneider (Elizabeth Abbott) and Herr Shultz (Adam Browning), the duo are forced to make their decision - face the dwelling hate, or cling on to the bright lights, glitz, and glamour of the cabaret.
Walt Whitman High School’s transportive retelling of a classic was brought to life with the help of the incredibly versatile accompaniment of the Whitman Pit Orchestra. This group of 52 dedicated instrumentalists filled the air with the sensual yet intense sense of the cabaret, masterfully conveying the riveting truth of each uniquely complex, captivating character.
Leading this touching production was Samantha Sanders as Sally Bowles. Sanders brought a lively energy to the story with her phenomenal vocal performance, delicately molding her character into an entity that was so much more than her sensuality. In her breathtaking performance of “Cabaret,” she was able to tear away the superficial nature of Sally, leaving only the striking portrayal of a haunted girl trapped by the consequences of her own choices. Ryan Robbins as the intense Emcee was a resounding triumph. Robbins’ unwavering energy and physicality made him a standout performer, but his ability to transition from a refreshingly fluid character to a powerful representation for the atrocities of Nazi Germany made him the beating heart of the production.
Elizabeth Abbott displayed her impressive emotional range as the heartbreaking Fraulein Schneider. Her connection with fiancé, Herr Shultz (Adam Browning), was a lovely highlight of the production that was supplemented by her incredible vocal display and emotional shift in “What Would You Do?” Abbott’s balance of soaring vocals and heart-rending sentiment was a striking pillar of the performance's integrity, and was a palpable reminder of the pressing message compounded throughout the production.
A shining element of Walt Whitman’s performance was the creative use of lighting by Ella Gontkovic, Alyssa Hodor, and the Whitman Lighting Team. The combination of spotlights and mainstage lighting cast entrancing silhouettes against the backdrop and even the ceiling of the theater. The bright lights cast organic shapes that pulled the audience further into the scene of the cabaret with each and every calculated movement, only amplifying the enrapturing ambience of the story.
Walt Whitman High School’s portrayal of “Cabaret” was a beautiful take on the topical themes of 1930’s Berlin, and served as a reminder that hatred is not gone, it has only hidden- and that is so important, now more than ever, to speak up and out.