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A CurtainUp dc Review
As the Emcee, Wesley Taylor (who some will remember from The Addams Family and Rock of Ages on Broadway and Smash, the tv series) is mesmerizing, seductive and a bit naughty. His performance and indeed this production is not for prudes. For everyone else it's a definitive Cabaret.
Taylor's "wilkommen to the Kit Kat club" is a lithesome dance full of pelvic thrusts and hip rolls. He remains in motion for the next two and a half hours. Think choreography by the late, great Bob Fosse but on steroids.
Thanks to the truly gifted director and choreographer Matthew Gardiner the moves never get old and the pace never slackens. Interest only mounts as the romance of its principals, and the sad and sordid political background of Berlin in the run-up to the Nazi takeover unfolds.
The cast is uniformly excellent, beginning with Taylor who is a terrific actor/singer/dancer who never shies away from taking extraordinary artistic risks. He's always in your face whether he is gently caressing a victrola on a stage that slowly begins to revolve or working the kick line with a very capable chorus of girls from the Kit Kat club. Like moths attracted to a flame, the audience cannot, dare not, take their eyes off this Emcee.
Barrett Wilbert Weed nails the part of Sally Bowles. She brings pathos and guts to each and every number she sings and has a very credible English accent, thanks to dialect coach Leigh Wilson Smiley, head of the Theater Department at the University of Maryland. With a Liza Minelli-like hair style, beautiful long limbs, Weed's Sally does justice to Gardiner's inspired choreography and Frank Labovitz's glitzy costumes.
As Cliff, the writer with very limited funds who finds himself in Berlin just as the biggest story of the century begins to unfold, Gregory Wooddell steadily and gracefully builds his character from diffidence to anger. Those around him might be oblivious or prefer to ignore the political situation he sees and he is shattered by Sally's rejection of his commitment to her. Wooddell is best known to Washington theater audiences and well liked as a classical actor who has performed Shakespeare and Wilde at the Shakespeare Theater here in town. In Cabaret he shows how capable he is in a musical.
Naomi Jacobson and Rick Foucheux are charming as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. Foucheux's voice is not strong but his conveyance of warmth and pride match Jacobson's pathos. Their duets are wonderfully sweet. All the leads are well supported by the rest of the cast.
The second act is very dark. The anti-Semitism of the time is brought home in many ways with Nazi banners and arm bands; but the shock is never so great as when the Emcee sings to a dancer in a gorilla costume, "She's clever, she's smart, she reads music. If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn't look Jewish at all." Even those who know how the number "If You Could See Her" ends, the shock and the sting are forceful, as is the violence that follows.
The intimate stage adapted well by Scenic Designer Misha Kachman, includes four rows of seats on three sides and small tables with antique telephones on them — club style —adjacent to the stage. The performers are literally in your face. Kachman's backdrop of shimmering strips of silvery stuff that looks like mylar reflect Jason Lyons's lighting. No visual trick is overplayed. On, off, go to black. That makes the shock of the moment all the more intense.
Many are responsible for Cabaret's brilliance: Christopher Isherwood wrote the short stories that became the basis for John Van Druten's play and Joe Masterhoff's book; John Kander composed the music; Fred Ebb wrote the lyrics. Conductor/pianist Jon Kalbfleish and eight other musicians do justice to their work.
How fortunate Washington is in having Signature on its doorstep. The talent that theater has fostered is remarkable. Founded 25 years ago in a crummy auto body shop by Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer and actress Donna Migliaccio the theater has evolved into a theatrical powerhouse. With Matthew Gardiner as Associate Director its future is in very good hands.