Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Set in Berlin's decadent club scene during the Nazis' rise to power in the early 1930s, Cabaret tells the tale of young hedonists for whom politics is irrelevant buzz-kill, and the mounting toll of human suffering that they conveniently ignore. With a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret eschews the feel-good ethic typical of musical theatre, and replaces it with a potent mix of raunch, pathos, and grim foreshadowing. Even as it hurtles toward a tragic future, the show beguiles us with one of the best theatre scores ever written.
The characters at the center of the action are Cliff Bradshaw and Sally Bowles. Cliff is a naive twenty-something American careening his way through Europe's nightlife on his mother's dime, while ostensibly writing the great American novel. The drug-addled Sally, on the lam from who knows what in her native London, drifts between Berlin sugar daddies while showing off her marginal talents on the stage of the smoke-filled Kit Kat Klub. In their orbit we find a host of compelling characters: Herr Schultz, the aging Jewish fruit vendor who believes that the Nazis are just a passing phase; Fräulein Schneider, the spinster who sees no alternative to keeping her head down and accepting the distasteful new regime; Fräulein Kost and Ernst Ludwig, the morally bankrupt generation that embraces the Nazis as the key to their own empowerment; and the Kit Kat Klub's bawdy entertainersthe androgynous Emcee and the lascivious Kit Kat girlswho urge their customers to ignore what is happening in the outside world because "In here, life is beautiful!"
Cabaret is full of rich material, and director Heard mines it with great success. As written, the role of Cliff is rather bland, but Axel Knight infuses him with the right blend of youthful folly and ominous foresight. Sally is a challenging role, because the audience must believe that her talents place her in the dime-a-dozen class, yet in her nightclub scenes she must pull off crowd-pleasing numbers like "Don't Tell Mama," "Mein Herr," and the title song. Charlie Starling is up to the task, giving us a self-destructive Sally who drifts about in a coke-induced haze but cranks up the juice whenever she hits the spotlight.
The showiest role, of course, is that of the Emcee. Anita Bean sings the role well, and ably captures the character's unctuous and sinister veneer. However, as of opening night, she had difficulty with the trilingual demands of the role, and lacked the commanding stage presence necessary for the character to shine.
Gail Romero is in fine voice in the vocally demanding role of Fräulein Schneider, creating a sympathetic portrait of powerless acquiescence, and E. Wayne Worley gives a touching performance as her gentle but self-deluding suitor Herr Schultz. Although Fräulein Kost and Ernst Ludwig are written as secondary characters, in this production they are exceptionally compelling. In the role of Kost (and doubling as Kit Kat girl Lulu), Katie Marie Jones is sublime. Gifted with powerful stage presence, Jones is a distinctive dancer who also sings beautifully. Her rendition of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is chilling. As Ernst Ludwig, Andrew Young is riveting, subtly transforming himself from an object of humor to a figure of menacea truly outstanding performance. Last but not least, the Kit Kat girls are sheer delight, executing Kimberly Amblad's choreography with glassy-eyed exuberance, like soulless puppets that spring to life on cue.
Amblad's choreography for the Kit Kat girls is letter perfect. However, she shortchanges her own dance sequence as the Gorilla in "If You Could See Her." As a result, the Emcee's ironic ode to the unlovable simply doesn't land.
This is an especially immersive production, with Majestic's black box venue transformed into a smoke-filled club with tables and chairs surrounding a three-quarter stage. Those seated at the tables may have close encounters with Kit Kat girls. Not to worrythe smoke isn't real, and there are traditional bleacher seats if you are feeling shy. Kathy Wusnack's costumes, the Design Ninjas' scenic design, and Marcus Randolph's lighting design all combine to dazzling effect. Under Andrew Tyler's musical direction, the three-man Kit Kat Band integrates perfectly with the performers to bring Kander's brilliant music to life.
For the most part, the production is brisk, and the musical sequences are impeccable. Although the show felt a bit long on opening night, and there were a few awkward moments with uncooperative props and scenery, by later in the run Cabaret should be firing on all cylinders. Miss it at your peril.
Cabaret, through August 26, 2018 (Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 5 pm) at Alios Las Vegas, 1217 S. Main St., Las Vegas NV. For tickets ($28 general admission; $15 students) or further information, go to www.majesticrepertory.com.