Berlin, 1931: Hitler’s Nazi slag was just beginning to ooze through the cracks in the Weimar Republic; Sally Bowles was waiting in the wings of the Kit Kat Klub; and life was a cabaret, old chum!
Tacoma Little Theatre presents the theatre’s 96th season’s final production “Cabaret,” with book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.
This Tony Award winning musical is based on the John Van Druten play, “I Am a Camera,” which he adapted from the Christopher Isherwood novel, “Goodbye to Berlin.”
The story revolved around the liberated, eccentric 19-year-old Sally Bowles, a performer at the decadent Kit Kat Klub, one of Berlin’s seedy night spots, her relationship with an American writer, Clifford Bradshaw, and the people who come in and out of their lives. All this is centered around the Emcee at the Kit Kat and the girls and boys who work there.
The charming sub-plot concerns the romance between the couple’s landlady, Fräulein Schneider and another tenant, Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor.
In a blending of a theatre community fellowship venture, John Munn, the Managing Artistic Director for The Lakewood Playhouse, takes on directorial responsibilities for the production; switching places, so to speak, with TLT’s Managing Artistic Director, Chris Serface, who is directing the next production at Lakewood Playhouse, “Drood – The Musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” which opens at Lakewood next week.
Pamela Merritt Caldwell does a good job as Musical Director, both with leading the singers and the Kit Kat Klub Band, which includes Caldwell on piano, Mauro Bozzo doing reeds, Robbie Marx on trumpet, Keely Freudenstein on trombone, Connor Fredericks on Bass and Benjamin Marx on percussion.
Lexi Barnett does an excellent job with the choreography. She has captured the sleazy mood of the Klub’s burlesque dancers and the last-chance romantic dreams of the landlady and her aging love.
Blake R. York does the sound and set design; the latter as a light bulb-laden marquee surrounding different levels of stage which are changed into various locations with the addition of simple furnishings, a couple of off-stage side doors and a rear curtain.
Niclas R. Olson does lights including a few nice specials punctuating numbers at the Klub. Michele Graves is responsible for the wonderful costume design. Jeffery Weaver does props, set dressing and wigs. Bethany Bevier is Stage Manager.
Munn’s direction brings out the best of the story and the cast. Just when you thought he couldn’t get better, the talented Munn has outdone himself with interpretation of script. In fact, he almost makes the audience forget that the first act is interminably long – almost an hour and a half – albeit, it is so well staged and acted, the audience is riveted to the stage and has a stirring experience at the act’s end. Luckily, the second act is far shorter with an even more dramatic ending, leaving the audience slightly stunned in its intensity.
This, juxtaposed with the songs, dancing and humor of the production, makes it a coup for the adroit director.
Munn’s cast does him proud.
Stephen Nishida is Bobby and a Kit Kat Boy; Addison Daniels is Victor and a Kit Kat Boy; Derek Wisher plays a Customs Official and is in the Ensemble. All three young men accomplish what their parts demand.
Jeremy Thompson is Max, the proprietor of the Kit Kat Klub and Sally’s present lover. Thompson turns in a fine performance; he is suitably grungy, as is his club.
Charlie Stevens as The Boy has the stirring solo with the first act curtain number “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” as he symbolizes the coming of the Hitler Youth.
The Kit Kat Klub Girls each superbly sing, dance and act their roles; they include:
Haley Kim as Frenchie, who makes it look so easy to dance the sinuous moves her character demands.
Kathy Kluska as Helga and Gorilla; the latter, wearing a full gorilla suit sporting a dainty pink umbrella, has a nice special with the Emcee singing “If You Could See Her.”
LaNita Hudson as Lulu, who is so graceful even with the short, clipped moves her character executes perfectly.
Amanda Jackson, as Rosie – Jackson blows the audience’s mind by doing an up-side-down perfect splits at the end of the opening number, “Willkommen.”
Rachel Fitzgerald does an excellent job as the comical boarding house hooker trying to hide her vocation from her landlady, who complains of her many male visitors who make a lot of noise. Fitzgerald is equally frightening when her buffoon turns into a Neo-Nazi in the second act.
Kyle Sinclair is Ernst Ludwig, the Berliner who meets Clifford on the train and befriends him. Sinclair has his accent down right and his character is equally perfect as the hail-fellow-well-met, helpful guy who finds Clifford lodgings and introduces him to the Klub. The audience can see through his “helpfulness” when Ludwig offers Clifford a large sum to “just deliver” something through the lines to someone. Again, Sinclair changes his character to the fearful embodiment of the coming terror which engulfed Germany a year later when Hitler took control of the country as Chancellor.
Niclas R. Olson plays Clifford Bradshaw as somewhat overwhelmed by the whole Berlin scene. He acts almost like a youngster in a candy store, getting his fill of the melee during the first act and coming to reality in the second. Then Olson changes his character to exude the importance of the decision-making time. His character is strong and affable.
Joseph Grant is Herr Schultz. Grant is a consummate actor in whatever role he assumes. As Schultz, he is loving and lovable; totally empathetic to the audience. Grant is superlative in the role.
Rosalie Hilburn is Fräulein Schneider. Hilburn is wonderful in the role as the gentle spinster eager to help whomever she can. She is graceful in her movements and has an excellent, clear singing voice. Hilburn’s interpretation of her character is simply perfect.
Elise Campello is Sally Bowles, the free-spirited, devil-may-care character who demands herself to be oblivious to all things negative surrounding her lest she must be taken seriously. Campello is glibly charming in the role and shows sequestered understanding of the underlying meaning to the part. Campello sings the title song, “Cabaret,” acting the words instead of just setting them to music – giving them true meaning.
Mauro Bozzo plays the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub. This triple-threat actor/singer/dancer is superb in the role. Bozzo moves about the stage like water shifting over glass; his hand and body movements exude fluidity. His facial movements beautifully exaggerated to match his other movements. He is funny. He is dramatic. Bozzo is a fine actor who gives the audience exactly what the director and writers asked for – perfection.
“Cabaret” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through June 14 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Cabaret” is a truly entertaining musical experience. However, the show goes one step beyond the usual musical venture. It gives the audience painful insight to what was and must never be again. There are tears behind the great acting, music and dancing but don’t let that deter you from seeing such a good production. Remember what once happened and it will never happen again.
According to Herr Shultz, it will not if we all just have a little mazel (luck) – “Mazel, that’s what we all need.”