For many years, La Comedia Dinner Theatre, southwest Ohio's biggest and best dinner theater, has presented a mixture of fine food and quality plays and musicals. With their latest effort, the Kander & Ebb musical Cabaret, they take some risks, with mostly positive results, by presenting one of their most adult productions to date.
Cabaret is set in Berlin in 1929. American Clifford Bradshaw arrives in Berlin to be inspired to write a novel. At the Kit Kat Klub, he meets Sally Bowles, the Emcee, and other creatures of the seedy nightclub life. Cliff's relationship with Sally, and their friendship with Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, as told against the backdrop of the growing power of the Nazi regime make for a compelling and tragic story.
The score by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb is full of gems including "Willkommen", "Don't Tell Mama", "Money", and the title number. Joe Masteroff's solid book provides significant insight into each main character and his use of the Emcee to commentate on the characters, culture, and atmosphere of 1929 Germany is dramatically effective.
La Comedia has, as usual, assembled a fine cast for this production. As Clifford, Robert Agis is nearly ideal. Mr. Agis sings the role with confidence and his acting makes the transformation of Cliff from naive foreigner to scared realist fully convincing. As Sally Bowles, Jocelyn Adams demonstrates a very strong singing voice (probably too strong for the role) and portrays the tragic figure well. Andrew English brings much depth, fun, and talent to the role of The Emcee with wonderful results. Terry Lupp and Fred Blumenthal, as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz respectively, capably endear themselves to us in these sympathetic roles, though Mr. Blumenthal's singing is significantly weaker than that of his fellow performers. The ensemble members do quite well in all areas and maintain their detailed characterizations throughout.
Director/choreographer Keith Cromwell presents a mixture of the current award-winning Broadway revival of Cabaret and the original production from the 1970s with positive results. The emphasized sexual tones of the revival are evident here and are not as toned down as might be expected (to suit the normal La Comedia audience). Mr. Cromwell's work here is heavily influenced by the direction of revival director Sam Mendes and he obviously has a solid grasp on the pulse of this musical. The risks involved here pay off. As Musical Director, Art Yelton leads his strong cast of singers effectively and La Comedia's use of a synthesized pre-recorded musical accompaniment does less to detract from this production than other shows in recent memory.
The set design by Matthew J. Evans borrows generously from the current production on Broadway as well. The two-tiered set and door with a viewing slot (which is used to open the show) are attractive and effective. A.T. Jones has provided appropriate and professional costumes as usual. The lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn is suitable.
La Comedia is to be commended for taking a risk with such a non-family friendly show that will likely not please all audience members. However, there is no doubt that they are presenting a solid and entertaining production of a successful show with a talented cast. Cabaret continues through November 4, 2001 and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.
-- Scott Cain