As the tortured Anna Morgan in The Ring, the lovely and versatile Shannon Cochran was best remembered for trying to rid the world of the evil that would come to be known as Samara. In the current touring production of the musical Cabaret, Cochran, bringing elegant resourcefulness to the role of Fraulein Schneider, again faces an oppressive force that threatens to destroy her.
The beating heart of Kander and Ebb’s legendary look at the last days of care free decadence in Berlin before the rise of the Nazi Party, the resigned Schneider, who runs an eroding boarding house with as much dignity as she can muster, has touched a chord in audiences for decades. Finding love, at long last, with Herr Schultz (the completely delightful Mark Nelson here), a happy go lucky fruit vendor, the stern Schneider begins to blossom onstage with girlish enthusiasm. But witnessing violent reactions to Schultz’s Jewish background causes the stricken Schneider to forgo her heart’s desire and opt for survival, one of the show’s most definitive tragedies.
Nicely, this production allows the beautiful Cochran to supply Schneider, generally viewed as a dowdy matriarch type, with an unaccustomed, slim regality. Taking cues provided from the song So What?, in which the Fraulein recounts the days of her well to do youth, Schneider may look like a former beauty queen, but Cochran fills her with so much weary humor and curt wisdom that she never appears out of place in her dreary surroundings. It’s a totally winning performance that adds much gravitas to the emotional ending of the musical’s first act.
Of course, Schneider is not alone in playing against type here. The sweet faced Randy Harrison, best known as Justin from Showtime’s Queer As Folk, is seemingly a far cry, temperamentally and visually, from the exotic quirkiness of Alan Cumming, an actor who has practically owned the role of the Emcee since Cabaret’s incredibly popular 90s revival. But Harrison’s take on the Emcee is authentically dazzling in its own right. Harrison brings a subtle flow to the proceedings while delightfully attacking the perverted joy and sexual deviance that are inherent in the part. Like Cochran, Harrison’s devotion to the role also makes his character’s fate all the more tragic. Ultimately, the poignant dashes of reality provided by these two powerhouse performers are this production’s truest strength.
Cabaret runs through February 21st in Chicago at The Private Bank Theatre, 18 W Monroe Street. For info on tickets and other stops on the tour: www.cabaretmusical.com.
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!