Caligari Kabinett, vintage 2001. . .

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI

by Richard Lawton and Douglas Hicton

directed by David E. Leidholdt

Midtown Theatre Festival

A John Chatterton Production

Equity Showcase (July 13 - August 5)

review by Louis Lopardi . . July 23, 2001

I heard a reading of this work one year ago, and like most creative types who discover something good, I feared for its safety should less than adequate artists undertake it. Fortunately, fears were unfounded; the current production is a stellar production of a stellar work of art.

Richard Lawton's and Douglas Hicton's book is a concise traversal of the sinewy twists of the 1919 German Expressionist film classic. James Maronek's set design perfectly complemented the current production while suggesting the abstract angularity of the original film treatment. The costume design by Robin I. Shane, a study in greys, was not the easy-way-out that such color scheme usually portends. Rather the costuming choices perfectly portrayed class distinctions, roles, and personal idiosyncracies. Makeup design (uncredited) complemented the production style well, but was a tad overstated for the small house. A refreshing Lighting Design by Hideaki Tsutsui perfectly modeled the production, making deft use of minimal means.

Dr. Caligari himself - Darrel Blackburn - resisted the temptation to overact in this stylish role, keeping instead a tightly controlled persona which was a marvel of economy. His unwilling partner in crime, Cesare, was ably played by Oliver Burg, whose voice alone could strike terror into even bold hearts if he so wished. Gregg Kapp, a powerful singer/actor, was a convincing romantic hero, while Edward M. Barker gave an excellent comic turn to Alan (Cesare's early victim, as is often the way with tenors).

The inimitable Robert Lehrer gave a richly detailed cameo as the 'old man'. And there was a tremendous attention to detail overall. For example, the way Cesare's left hand fingers curled in the archtypal horror genre pose, and then that same finger-curl echoed in part by Dr. Caligari during his song about Cesare. Another tiny visual joke was Munch's "Scream" as the cover illustration on a handbill announcing the death of the Chief Clerk. In all, the production was clearly under tight artistic control. Director David E. Leidholdt clearly has a flair for encompassing the big picture while controlling details. His use of the stage-space - a terse, claustrophobic house - was breathtaking in simplicity and power. There was, if at all, only one missed joke. And to quibble, the final production number in the madhouse (despite the wonderful textual and musical counterpoint) went on just a bit too long for this size performance venue. It would be fine in a larger house.

Music and Lyrics by Douglas Hicton are the best argument to-date that musical theatre has a long and interesting life ahead of it. Musical highlights - the Oktoberfest production number, the Clerk's Office scene, and the Title song - were well written and produced. These are true crowd pleasers in the grand sense of musical theatre. But there is more. Much more. The 'Dear Diary" song had a very Gilbert & Sullivan derived staging, but appropriately so. Another song seemed to owe much to Cabaret's 'Money Song', but then it's development section when on to great originality. Overall, the Musical Direction by Brett Kristofferson was first class. His realizations of the songs, his harmonizations, scoring, and voice leading, all impeccable. He also accompanied the performance, on what sounded like a vintage synthesizer (a DX7?), directing his well-trained ensemble with spirit, sensitivity, and grace. Underscoring, always an issue, was judiciously applied; as when Alan's murder occured to the strains of the 'Cigarette Waltz' of the previous scene. Jane's 'Bedtime' song - another waltz - was brilliantly delivered by Natalie Salins. Don Juhlin played her sternly benevolent father.

The vocally poised ensemble was excellent. Michael Klimzak was a brilliant Chief Clerk, with a flair for period style. Well supported by Jason Roseberry and Matthew Nelson - powerful singer/actors. Britta King also showed a stylistic sensitivity, well accompanied by Angela Shultz and Kaia Monroe. Ensemble work throughout was first class, both in singing and staging. In one instance, the company processed through a self-supported curtain, only to at once re-emerge as though entering Caligari's tent at the carnival; A tiny moment, but one so skillfully executed that however simple, it became a true coup-de-theatre.

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