A Darkly Intriguing Cabaret at SecondStory Rep
The story concerns a young American writer, Cliff Bradshaw, who has come to 1931 Berlin in search of inexpensive lodging and inspiration to write a book. He is befriended by a young German man, Ernst Ludwig, who points him in the direction of an affordable boarding house run by an acquaintance, Fraulein Schneider. Ernst also entices Cliff with a source for local entertainment ... a seedy cabaret known as the Kit Kat Klub where he later meets love-interest Sally Bowles. The Klub is a decadent representation of Weimar Germany, overseen by the sardonic Emcee and his corps du cabaret and, through a series of events including the rise to power of the Third Reich, Cliff's life is unavoidably altered.
As Cliff Bradshaw, Matthew Posner is vocally appealing, winning over the audience on his playful duet with Sally, "Perfectly Marvelous," and the romantically ironic "Why Should I Wake Up?" As Sally Bowles, Kimberly McFerron is tragic in her denial of what is happening both around and to her, choosing instead to hide within the comfort zone of the Kit Kat Klub. She shines on the numbers "Don't Tell Mama" and "Maybe This Time." As Fraulein Schneider, Carol Richmond is at turns comical ("So What?") and poignant, singing opposite doomed suitor Herr Schultz (David-Edward Hughes) on the songs "It Couldn't Please Me More" and "Married." Hughes is particularly affecting in his scene work as an optimist who greatly underestimates the power of hate. Robbie Turner's Emcee has delicious fun with the numbers "Two Ladies" and "If You Could See Her" and turns on a dime with the desolation of "I Don't Care Much." The Company is terrific on the opening number "Willkommen," and then chillingly supports Fraulein Kost (Sophia Federighi) and Ernst Ludwig (Daniel Stoltenberg) on the anthem-like "Tomorrow Belongs To Me." Music Direction by Josh Anderson is solid, and his five-musician ensemble admirably supports the production throughout.
Director/Choreographer Troy Wageman presents the story as a dark and turbulent dream, a gauzy, almost drug-induced recollection of something that may or may not have actually occurred. The dreamlike quality is mostly effective, but even I, an avid and unabashed fan of noir, felt it may have been too dark a landscape against which to portray these characters. In order to appreciate the darkness, one must be led into it from the light, and this production begins and ends in darkness. The ensemble is dressed in black corsets, jackets, stockings, lace and shoes (when worn). Their makeup is somewhat ghoulish, particularly the men. Principals are dressed in muted tones of beige and brown. It occurs to me that this is really a more suitable backdrop for another Kander & Ebb musical, The Visit, but this incarnation of Cabaret is a worthy production with much to recommend itself: Mark Chenovick's set design is visually stimulating and utilitarian, offering the various locales of the story with ease; Chelsea Blum's costume design is both period appropriate for the principals and scandalously provocative for the Emcee and ensemble; Alyssa Milione's lighting design is at turns stark and moody, evoking the excitement of the garish nightclub and the intimate interiors of Fraulein Schneider's boarding house; and Wageman's choreography is polished and eye-catching.
An audience would be hard pressed to be left unaffected by this show ... there is a reason that it is staged so often both here and abroad. It's a love story, a social commentary and above all, a cautionary tale ... lest history repeat itself. For indeed, how could life be a cabaret with ash floating down from above?
Cabaret runs Thursday through Sunday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm through September 2 at SecondStory Repertory Theatre, in Redmond Town Center, Redmond. For tickets go to www.secondstoryrep.org or call 425-881-6677.