But I was wrong. Mr. Graham is right at home in the "degenerate" world of the Weimar Republic, in spite of his ostensible lack of Aryan blood. Don't forget, after all, it's all happening when Josephine Baker was already a big deal in Paris. And Mr. Graham is every bit the showman that Miss Baker was.
Instead, the biggest shock of the Rep's new Cabaret is that somehow it's Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz who supply most of the emotional backbone of the story, in a production directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Mary Gordon Murray is great as the tormented German landlady, and Michael Marotta is heartwarming as the kindly Jewish shopkeeper. It's their ill-fated love affair that quietly runs the table in this new staging.
"But that's the way it's supposed to be," my friend Kathie Dalton says. Ms. Dalton was one of the original Kit Kat Girls ("Texas") in the 1960s, when Cabaret first opened on Broadway. So, I'm wrong again. It's just that I always thought Cliff and Sally were the big emotional center of the play (and the movie), and the older lovers were there to supply some old-world charm (and a grisly little history lesson on the side). Not that Hunter Ryan Herdlicka and Liz Pearce aren't first-rate in their roles as the wildly mismatched pair of younger lovers: he, a writer and she, a singer. Maybe it's just that the young, inherently, have so much less at stake.
But, to save my ego, let's just pretend that I was totally unsurprised by anything about this lavish new mounting of a 47-year-old show. Even though it still packs a load of emotional dynamite. You can still hear gasps of surprise sprinkled throughout the evening, here in 2013, which is always a divinely decadent delight in itself.
Then again, Cliff's usual "gay angst" (in most productions of the show), at being forced into an open choice between a flock of extremely available young men in Berlin and one rather unforgettable lady nightclub singer, is handled in a very grown-up, straightforward way. It's refreshing, but it may also be one of the reasons why Cliff and Sally aren't the fully realized Romeo and Juliet in this case.
On the other hand, it's painfully clear that this Sally does bear the weight of the world in the title song, as she contemplates another abortion; and afterward, in her bruised attempt at reconciliation with Cliff. Ms. Pearce performs a triumph of dramatic acting in that pivotal song, and both are great in grappling with events that are intensely personal, and world-shaking too.
Very fine specialty numbers all along the way, with Mr. Graham and the Kit Kat performers, and delightfully economic stagecraft too, thanks again to director Dodge and scenic designer Michael Schweikardt.
Through October 6, 2013, at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts at 130 Edgar Rd., on the campus of Webster University. For more information visit www.repstl.org or call (314) 968-4925.