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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Signature Theatre

Also see Susan's review of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Wesley Taylor
Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, and director-choreographer Matthew Gardiner have created a production of Cabaret that, in many ways, goes beyond the boundary-breaking vision of the recent Broadway production. The flexible MAX Theatre accommodates tables in front of the rows of theater seats, but this staging also uses the center aisle as a major playing area. In this version of Berlin's Kit Kat Club, no one can be a disinterested observer as Nazi violence creeps into the spotlight.

The 1966 musical by Joe Masteroff (book), John Kander (music), and Fred Ebb (lyrics) was considered shocking at its premiere, only 20 years after the end of World War II, but subsequent productions have become increasingly transgressive. Some of Frank Labovitz's costumes look like a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, and the sight gags perpetrated by the chorus boys are self-evidently bawdy.

Misha Kachman's scenic design seems simple at first—an illuminated door here, some Mylar curtains there, auditorium walls covered with corroded-looking mirrors—but it soon reveals hidden depths. The Emcee (Wesley Taylor), with his chopped hair and black lederhosen over a bare chest, is a hypnotic, threatening figure; the audience doesn't really start to relax until the dancing girls appear in their ragged costumes and seedy black stockings. ("Even the orchestra is beautiful," the Emcee says, but in this production the musicians are men in whiteface.)

Barrett Wilbert Weed brings out the many sides of Sally Bowles: the self-promoter, the lonely woman looking for a protector, and the singing actress whose enthusiasm exceeds her abilities. Gardiner brings out the sense of desperation that underlies the relationship between Sally and American author Cliff (handsome but overly urbane Gregory Wooddell): she wants someone and something she can hold onto, he's gay and in denial.

Rick Foucheux and Naomi Jacobson, well-known Washington actors who are not primarily musical performers, bring great warmth and humor to the roles of Jewish fruit seller Herr Schultz and landlady Fräulein Schneider. Bobby Smith and Maria Rizzo capably show how nice-seeming people may be hiding abhorrent attitudes.

Gardiner's choreography for the cabaret numbers brings out the menace lurking in Ebb's lyrics and Kander's insinuating tunes: the desperation of "The Money Song," the chilling resolve of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," and several cases of humor turning instantly into horror.

Signature Theatre
May 12th - June 28th
Book by Joe Masteroff, based on the play by John van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Emcee: Wesley Taylor
Sally Bowles: Barrett Wilbert Wood
Cliff: Gregory Wooddell
Herr Schultz: Rick Foucheux
Fräulein Schneider: Naomi Jacobson
Fräulein Kost: Maria Rizzo
Ernst: Bobby Smith
Rosie: Colleen Hayes
Lulu: Shayna Blass
Frenchie: Rachel Schur
Texas: Jamie Eacker
Fritzie: Maria Rizzo
Mousie: Jessica Thorne
Bobby: Kurt Boehm
Victor: Mark Chandler
Hans: Jordan Debona
Fritz: Joseph Tudor
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Gardiner
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch
MAX Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or

Photo: Margot Schulman

-- Susan Berlin

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.

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