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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Cabaret at 5th Avenue Theatre

Also see David's review of Little Women

Cabaret
Nick Garrison
Lyricist Fred Ebb wrote "Give 'em the old razzle dazzle" to a jaunty tune by his composer/collaborator John Kander, but the pair wrote that song for their 1975 musical Chicago, not for Cabaret, the pair's first landmark musical. Yet director Bill Berry's take on the dark-hued musical set in pre-WWII Berlin, has too much razzle dazzle about it, seemingly taking its cue from the Emcee's encouragement to the audience to "Leave your troubles outside." The show's production values from Tom Sturge's glitzy and flashy scenic and lighting designs, to Thomas G. Marquez's blindingly spangly costumes cry out "Welcome to Vegas" rather than "Welcome to Berlin."

But make no mistake, there are some palpable pleasures to be found at this Kit Kat Club. As gifted musical director Ian Eisendrath and members of his nifty onstage band start up Kander & Ebb's terrific opening number "Willkommen," we meet Nick Garrison's winking, slinky and bawdy Emcee. This is a role Garrison fans (and there are many in Seattle) have known he was destined to play, and he does not disappoint. He takes the stage and holds it for more than two and a half hours, as he is seldom allowed offstage for more than a quick costume change. When Garrison introduces not only the club's performers but also the "book" characters derived from Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories," it appears that this Cabaret is intended to be seen through the Emcee's eyes, rather than the viewpoint of the Isherwood prototype character, writer Clifford Bradshaw. An odd directorial choice, but Garrison makes it viable. Two characters who live their lives outside of the nightclub are essayed by a pair of Seattle's top-drawer talents. As boarding house landlady Fraulein Schneider, Suzy Hunt offers a crowning jewel of a characterization to add to her all ready formidable gallery of roles, with the added surprise that she is also an exquisite musical actress. Hunt finds all the humor and pathos inherent in Schneider's great opening song "So What?" and then etches a moving portrait of dashed hopes and resignation in her second solo, "What Would You Do?." As Herr Schultz, the Jewish greengrocer whose bittersweet engagement to Schneider is irrevocably torn apart by the encroaching Nazi movement in Berlin, Allan Fitzpatrick is utterly real and achingly touching, and his duets with Hunt on "You Couldn't Please Me More" and the wistful waltz, "Married," are glowing highlights of the production. More's the pity that this production omits Schultz's solo "Meeskite," as it would have been great to see this talented actor in a solo moment.

Tari Kelly in the central female role of Sally Bowles has song and dance talent to spare, amply displayed in numbers like "Mein Herr" and the title song, but like Liza Minnelli before her, it's hard to accept that such a talent would be working in a seedy Berlin nightclub. Acting wise she captures Sally's abandon and devil may care attitudes, but never digs deep enough beneath the surface to make us feel anything for Sally, and there is no real chemistry between Kelly and frequent 5th Avenue leading man Louis Hobson in the admittedly cardboard role of the bisexual Cliff. Hobson sings with his customary ease and a vocal richness that continues to blossom, but his songs are among the lesser numbers in the score. Angie Louise creates a brusquely humorous grotesque of the resident boardinghouse prostitute Fraulein Kost, and anchors the fittingly unsettling act one finale reprise version of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."

Bob Richards' high-kicking, campy choreography is enjoyable, especially when it is a number featuring Garrison, but his staging of the initial rendition of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is downright pretentious and peculiar (though Jadd Davis's thrilling high tenor solo in the number is most notable). The ensemble of cabaret boys and girls are adrenaline charged and suitably decadent throughout, and the "boys will be girls" theme carries over to the band in which all the male members are in drag, and they seem to relish every moment of it.

Cabaret (which had an initial run in San Jose and moves on from Seattle to a May run at St. Paul Minnesota's Ordway Center) as a crowd pleaser? That's what this production amounts to, and taken as that it has its pleasures. But Nick Garrison has another Emcee inside of him. One who presides over a darker, dirtier Kit Kat Club. I'll be in line to see that version.

Cabaret runs through April 13, 2008 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Visit the 5th Avenue website at www.5thavenuetheatre.org for further details.


Photo: David M. Allen Photography



- David Edward Hughes



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