Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Shotgun Players Presents a Bawdy and Rambunctious Cabaret
Also see Richard's review of Killer Joe
I thought I had seen every take on Kander and Ebb's classic Cabaret, starting with the original production at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1967 starring Jill Haworth and Joel Grey. The Shotgun Players is currently presenting one of the most raunchy and rambunctious versions of the musical that I have ever seen. This makes my eleventh viewing of the musical, including the recent revival in New York, two productions in London, touring and regional productions plus a wonderful production in Columbus, Ohio some years back. The Shotgun Players seem to have taken bits from several versions of the musical and have made this a fun production.
Director Russell Blackwood has pulled out all stops to make this an adult only representation of what a cabaret would be like in the extravagant world of the Weimar Republic just before the Nazi rise to power. This amazing production is on a small stage of the Ashby Stage Theatre with a minimal set with a two-story steel fire escape platform where some of the action takes place. A six-piece all-male orchestra dressed in white dinner jackets under the direction of Dave Malloy gives a wonderful boisterous edge.
As soon as you enter the small theatre you are greeted by the Kit Kat Girls, all scantily dressed with excessive amounts of mascara. They speak with German accents and are busty, looking like Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel . Even the main characters, with the exception of the Emcee, walk around greeting people. The theatre has provided tables in the front of the stadium-type seating for the V.I.P. customers.
When the drum rolls, the extremely fey Emcee (Kieran Chavez) with eerie makeup comes out singing "Willkommen." Chavez took over the role when Clive Worsley left the cast; he is efficiently lewd in the role, with a big smile on his face that lights up the theatre. His singing is lustrous and expressive, and he makes wonderful moves with his lithe body when singing such songs as "Money" and "Two Ladies." This is pure kitsch but hilarious.
Kimberly Dooley adds a certain freshness to the role of Sally Bowles. She has a perky voice when singing "Don't Tell Mama" and the title song. She plays the character like a good time girl who is naïve about the politics of the time and she could not care less. Even her "romance" with Clifford, played very well by Cassidy Brown, does not seem too real. Brown is likeable in his role and seems very like a deer caught in the headlights with his sexual situation with the strong-minded Sally.
Mary Gibboney is outstanding as Fraulein Schneider. She gives heartfelt dramatic readings to "So What?," "It Couldn't Please Me More," and "What Would You Do?" Her last song is a more bittersweet rendering than most I have heard. Joe Roebuck is effective in his role of Schultz, her Jewish suitor who firmly believes that Nazism is merely a passing phase in the German Republic. Judy Phillips is very strong as Fraulein Kost and has powerful vocal chops when she sings the German folk song, "Tomorrow Belongs to Us." The audience has the lyrics of the song in their programs, and she asks them to join in the chorus. Many in the audience who know the significance of the song refuse to join in. Danny Webber makes a good appearance as the up and coming Nazi, Ernst Ludwig.
Andrea Weber's choreography has a certain tackiness about it. The Kit Kat Girls Davina Cohen, Nicole Julien, Maggie Kelley, Jessica Kitchens, Rebecca Noon are not professional dancers and it shows. However, they give the appearance of what sleazy dancers would be like in those dodgy cabarets in Berlin in the early '30s. The girls even go bare-chested in the opening of the second act. The boys played by Kenneth Scott and Adric Alvaro (who replaced Kieran Chavez in this role) are very fey in their dancing.
The Shotgun Players, who are not noted for musicals, have made some slight changes in this production. The big number from the film for Sally Bowles, "Maybe This Time," is now sung by members of the Kit Kat Klub. Rowan Brooks, who plays many characters in this production, gets a chance briefly to sing "Tomorrow Belongs To Me," and he has a lovely bell clear voice.
Cabaret plays through January 29th at the Ashby Stage, on Ashby Ave just off Martin Luther King Blvd, Berkeley. However, it's almost sold out for the rest of the run and only stand by tickets can be obtained by going directly to the theatre. You can call the box office at 510-841-6500 for any cancellations. You can also go to their website at www.shotgunplayers.org for more information.