Reviewer: Beth Detloff
Venue: Court Street Theatre
In 1972 Liza Minnelli sang these words, “What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come hear the music play, life is a Cabaret!” In Michigan we are in the longest part of winter, right in the middle. The perpetual motion of the holidays is over, and many of us have been recuperating by hunkering down at home. It does feel a little bit like I have been sitting alone in my room. Maybe a night of music would shake me from my reverie of winter blues.
A recent poll found that Valentine’s Day is the least popular holiday in the US. That seemed to be the opposite as the Court Street Theatre filled up, to an almost sold out show. People were here for love. I love music, and singing, and being immersed in song, but I was hesitant of the theme. I grabbed my Galentine and prepared to have my mind changed about love.
Perusing through the program I saw several songs I am familiar with including, “My Funny Valentine” and “Dream A Little Dream of Me”. The “Great American Songbook” included songs from several avenues of theatre, including Broadway, and Hollywood film from the 1920-1950s.
The word cabaret had me intrigued. I sat at my desk all day pondering how the Court Street Theatre was going to transform their rows of seats into a nightclub atmosphere. I found out immediately that the nightclub setting was on the stage, with props provided by a local Bay City lounge. What I was not expecting was that the nine cast members, members of the Saginaw Choral Society, would each be playing a character. These characters had a story and quirks that were brought out by the songs they sang. The crowd got to know the characters intimately before the all too fast intermission arrived.
The entire cast was accompanied on the piano by Kevin Cole who also narrated the small scenes. He introduced us around the bar and I found myself immersed in each character. They interacted with each other and moved seamlessly on stage. The nightclub atmosphere was completely believable as the bartender served drinks and wiped off the tables, patrons left the stage as if they were using the restroom, and mingled with each other while collecting their cocktails.
The cast of nine encompassed every type of patron you would expect to find out “celebrating” on Valentine’s Day. Julie Mulady and Ric Roberts played a married couple who had me smiling by the fourth musical number. Their chemistry on stage and gestures had the crowd in stitches. Uduak Obong Eyo and Jeremiah Kraniak played single friends who may have left the crowd guessing as to whether they left the night club as more. Nancy Stevenson and Kathy Pawloski played divorcee’s who were flirting with the same man, unbeknownst to each other. Jim Smerdon played the single man at the bar who kept the bartender, Steve Anderson, company while he navigated making and thwarting a love connection.
Several songs gave comedic relief to the subject of heartbreak. A universally shared experience that became utterly relatable when Kevin sang the hilarious lyrics to “The Liars Song”. Kevin played two piano medleys in the show and left us with the words of wisdom “Love is the only thing that matters”. It rang true for the characters who were out celebrating more than just romantic love. There was plenty of romantic love but it was delivered in an endearing and funny way that made you happy for the “third times a charm” couple. There was also the celebration of loving your friends, remembering loves that have left us, and loving ourselves enough to go through life. Not to mention some laughter and relief at dodging a few bullets here and there.
The patrons of the Court Street Theatre walked in from the cold and were treated to warm songs that were perfect for each character and kept the story going right until the end. Before the show started I wondered why the same song was in the program twice and learned it was being used as a way for two characters to flirt with each other at different times. Everyone walked out with smiles on their faces, hearts thawed near and wide.
The Saginaw Choral Society’s show played one night at Court Street but the music and character delivery will stay with me long after the heart shaped boxes have left the shelves. You can catch the Choral Society at a few more upcoming shows in their 2023 season. A night out immersed in song will have your heart feeling as light as Daylight Savings.