Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Cinnabar Theater
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule

Michael McGurk, Alia Beeton, and Cast
Photo by Victoria Von Thal
Few musicals in the canon can claim more relationship to today's politics than the award-winning Cabaret, and the staging currently on the boards at Cinnabar Theater makes much of that relevance while delivering a thoroughly entertaining show. Terrific talent and clever conceptual touches make for a "new" Cabaret worth revisiting. Director Elly Lichenstein has assembled a strong cast and creative team, and the consistency and commitment of vision throughout adds up to an attractive, engaging, and powerful production.

Weimar Germany on the eve of Hitler's rise to power may seem an unlikely choice of context for a musical, but its hard-hitting historically based satire combined with the delightfully racy Kit Kat Klub setting has proven to be a crowd-pleasing winner since its debut in 1966. Cinnabar's production incorporates and builds on many of the changes to book and music over the years, notably versions since 1998 that mix songs and stage elements from the highly successful 1972 film, which starred Liza Minnelli. Those familiar with earlier stagings, or with the film, will enjoy all of the favorites in addition to some thoughtful original moments.

Based on source material from John Van Druten's 1951 play, I Am a Camera, and with with music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, the musical follows American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Lucas Brandt) as he visits Berlin in search of ideas for his aspirations as a novelist. A chance encounter with Ernst Ludwig (Mark Robinson) leads him to a boarding house run by Fräulein Schneider (Mary Gannon-Graham) and other occupants Herr Schultz (Michael Van Why) and Fräulein Kost (Krista Joy Serpa). Another Ludwig recommendation sends him to the Kit Kat Klub, where he enjoys the raunchy antics of the Emcee (Michael McGurk) and his ensemble of sexy Kit Kat Girls and Boys. Bradshaw also gets a welcome introduction to the headliner, English entertainer Sally Bowles (Alia Beeton), and a surprise reunion with Bobby (Zane Walters), a friend from London.

When Sally's erstwhile affair with Klub owner Max (Jorge Covarrubias) runs dry, she moves in with Cliff, which in turn leads to further complications with both their lives. Scenes at the Klub alternate with scenes at the boarding house, where we also witness the growing love between Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Their sweet scenes together spell hope, an end to loneliness. But these are troubled times—later revelations will have bitter consequences for all our protagonists, defying musical theatre conventions and bringing home sobering themes.

Strong performances from McGurk as the Emcee and Gannon-Graham and Van Why as Schneider and Schultz lead the show, and carry the bulk of the book's message. McGurk expertly delivers a song that was restored to act two in later revivals, "I Don't Care Much," with a fierce vulnerability. Gannon-Graham enlists our sympathies with subtle expressions and then deftly turns on a dime. Van Why's charm and sweet demeanor lend believability to his character's naivete.

Brandt struggles a bit with the juxtaposition of Cliff's apparent innocence with his sexuality, but warms to the character's growing political awareness in later scenes. There's precious little chemistry between Cliff and Sally, which can be chalked up to their mismatch as a couple, but we don't see enough contrast of exuberance versus inner conflict. Beeton at first seems an unlikely Sally, very posh and prom queen rather than sexualized headliner in a seedy nightclub, but her vocals in signature numbers like "Mein Herr" and "Maybe This Time" win us over. She knocks it out of the park on "Cabaret," a stirring solo.

Supporting ensemble performers are excellent, gleefully bawdy and fully enjoying their roles. Standouts include Madison Scarbrough and Jean-Paul Jones in "Two Ladies" with McGurk, and Zane Walters with McGurk in "If You Could See Her"—but they're all suitably lewd and fun to watch. Michella Snider's skillful choreography provides many layers of racy amusement.

Scenic and lighting design by Wayne Hovey make efficient use of a multi-level stage to allow for multiple locations and serves up some affecting, dramatic lighting moments, especially in act two. Costumes, wigs, and make-up by Jolie O'Dell are mostly effective and character defining, but it seems odd to keep Sally in black the entire show, and in conservative styles. Music director Mary Chun heads up a fine Kit Kat Klub band and guides the performers' vocals with a seasoned hand. The choice not to mike performers, however, seems unwise with a score that features so much brass—several numbers suffer from an imbalance between voices and the band.

If you've never seen Cabaret, or if you haven't seen it in a while, or even if you saw it last week, you owe it to yourself to see this one. You don't want to miss the outstanding performances and provocative production.

Cabaret, through September 23, 2018, at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd., Petaluma CA. Tickets $15.00-$35.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 707-763-8920