The only thing more fun than watching the Dallas Theater Center's production of Cabaret last night -- a knock-down, drag-out, must-see for which you can read Elaine Liner's review here -- was watching the audience. The Wyly Theatre is set up for the show with a front section of cabaret tables in the thick of the Kit Kat Klub's naughty action...making, naturally, for excellent voyeurism.
You couldn't hear it, but you could definitely feel the gasping of breath as the Emcee, played with ferocity by Wade McCollum, took center stage, the waistband of his pants turned down to a dangerous depth. It was delicious fun watching audience members squirm from that moment on.
Hands were clasped tightly in laps and eyes were averted dramatically when characters moved in too close for comfort. But it was clear that the audience dug it. Despite rumors of audience members who couldn't take the heat escaping at intermission, this performance's audience was happy to take it all in.
The chatter at intermission was giddy, school-girl like and just a teeny bit catty too...
Act I, Scene I: A man in a suit walking with a tipsy blue-hair in a tres tacky dress. Man: "How was her German?" Blue-Hair: [She harrumphs and then says with clearly un-earned authority and a Texas country twang] "Not great."
Act I, Scene II: A gathering of handsome well-dressed gay men discuss the impossibility of the Emcee's abs, which were, admittedly, out of this world. W-DGM1: "No way." W-DGM2: "It's some sort of costume trick. Am I right?" W-DGM3: "Airbrushing. Has to be airbrushing." W-DGM4: "Damn."
Act I, Scene III: Gaggle of "ladies who lunch" all but fanning themselves after Act I. LWL: "I just want to pull his pants up." Tittering and the covering of mouths by diamond ring enhanced, age-spotted hands.
Act II brought equally good people-watching. And I am happy to report that when the Emcee asked an audience member to slip a prop key into the "waist" of his pants, she did so without hesitation. And no, it was neither a blue-hair nor a lady who lunches. I wish.
Before I knew it the show ended. The lights went down. The audience stood up. And the theater began to empty. The after-the-show conversation with the cast was announced and some folks move to the front.
Act II, Scene 1: Cluster of fifty-something couples. Woman 1: "I thought you'd be out there onstage." One woman ribs another. The eye rolling ensues.
Act II, Scene II: Handsome man with his equally lovely date. Handsome Man: [Sarcasm oozing] "You're not staying for the conversation?" Lovely Date: "Uh, no."
Act II, Scene III: Yet another slew of Dallas' finest. Woman 1: "They were nekkid. I've never seen anything like that." Blushing ensues.
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Perhaps not surprisingly, the younger set, including what I believe were Booker T. Washington students, took to the DTC's Cabaret just fine. And the older set clearly enjoyed, while protesting just a bit too much.
Act III, Scene I: The post-performance "Conversation" begins with actor Lee Trull, who plays Cliff Bradshaw. Trull: "What was provocative about this show?" Audience: "Everything." Trull: "And how would you say it's different from the movie?" Audience: "Much more racy than the movie." "More decadent." "A little campy." Audience Teen Near Rear: "It was authentic." The "decades removed from being teenagers" giggle into their hands with an air of "silly kids today" disdain. Director's note: A shame. I think the kid was dead-on. Different Audience Teen: [with palpable earnestness] "Where does the confidence come from?" Trull: "It's just work. And the value of the story validates all of the risks you're taking."
Before I headed out for the evening, I ask actress Kate Wetherhead, who plays Sally Bowles, for her take on the audience reaction to the show's bawdiness and nudity. "If there has been any sort of activity that would disrupt the show, I haven't heard it," she said. "I don't know if that's because of the alchemy or because I'm trying to self-protect. I will say, there is a palpable energy shift when something risque happens."
"When I take my shirt off, it's supposed to elicit a laugh and it does. It can be strange when you're in the audience and someone pushes the envelope. But in a strange way, I feel like I'm the one in power. It's kind of incredible. Almost so much so that I'd suggest it [getting naked on stage] to people."