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A CurtainUp DC Review

"We have no troubles here. Life is beautiful." — Emcee
Joey Khoury, Jon Peterson and Chelsey Clark (Photo by Joan Marcus)
The tone of Cabaret currently at the Kennedy Center before continuing on a nation-wide tour is "in yer face." That's before the first note of John Kander's fabulous music is played.

The hard-looking Girls, at first just two who are gradually joined by five more, at Berlin's tawdry Kit Kat Club are spreading their legs wide while doing warm up stretches. Their lewd and sometimes crude movements attest to the degrading life they lead in order to survive. Little do they know or care about the political apocalypse that is about to ruin their Club, their city, the world.

Enter the Emcee, played by Jon Peterson who has appeared in previous productions of this musical classic. He's tiny, wiry, and a hyper mover who's made-up face gives him a pixie-like quality. "Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome," he sings a bit too rapidly and not altogether intelligibly until the audio guy adjusts sound levels. (Why, one wonders was this not taken care of before the performance.) But as the show continues and no matter how many actors are with him, this Emcee commands everyone's attention.

What follows — in case you are not familiar with this warhorse (one of my favorites btw) — is the story of a naive, not-quite-out bi-sexual American, Clifford Bradshaw, (Benjamin Eakeley) who arrives in Berlin wanting to write a novel. Bradshaw seems too dopey to be sufficiently curious about Berlin in 1929, as the Nazis are getting ready to take over. "Tomorrow Belongs To Me," the Emcee sings.

Bradshaw meets and falls in love with Sally Bowles (a wholesome looking Leigh Ann Larkin) who works at the Kit Kat Club. For the book by Joe Masteroff to make sense Cliff should be in awe of Sally and she should be a flake. They should have perfectly marvelous charisma and a hearty lust for one another. Unfortunately, neither player generates this kind of chemistry. Larkin is redeemed somewhat by her splendid voice and clear diction. She gives all she's got in "Maybe This Time," one of many superb, perfect songs that make Cabaret such a wonderful musical, in spite of performances that are tepid.

The second act is very political and in one number particularly, "If You Could See Her," shocking. The parts of Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray, a strong voice and empathetic mien) and Herr Schultz (Scott Robertson), are symbols of what happens to good people when bad things happen, are sweetly played.

Robert Brill's two-tiered set is simple and practical. Circular iron staircases on each side of the stage give the actors additional platforms from which to speak, blow a trumpet, whatever. The middle of the upper tier is occupied by at least twenty musicians two of whom, Alison Ewing on accordion and Jenna Zito Clark on cello, double as Kit Kat girls. This excellent band plays within a cockeyed frame with curtains made of silver mylar strips on each side. The effect is jazzy particularly when the second act opens with all the musicians playing within the frame a reprieve of music heard in the first act.

William Ivey Long's costumes are, as always, perfectly suited to the era as well as the demands of fast steps and high kicks. Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari designed the lighting which is excellent, particularly when creating silhouettes in the dour final scene.

This 2017 version of Cabaret, directed by BT McNicholl and, as it says in the program, with "choreography recreated by Cynthia Onrubia" is based on the Roundabout Company's 1998 production directed by Sam Mendes and Co-Directed and Choreographed by Rob Marshall that ran on Broadway until 2004. What comes to mind is that too many cooks spoiled the broth in the 2017 revival. It's hard to know who is responsible for what but a little less of the current production's crotch-centric choreagraphy with frequent pelvic thrusts and suggestively deep crouches would have been enough. However, The dawning of the Nazi takeover in the second act is brilliantly evoked, sending shivers down the spine, created by the strong sounds made by dancers rhythmically stomping their feet.

Nothing can ruin John Kander's magnificent music and Fred Ebb's clever, meaningful lyrics. The show is packed with one winner after another: "Perfectly Marvelous," "Money," and the wickedly funny "Don't Tell Mama." Although this production has some negatives, the music and lyrics are what carry the show and always will.

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Book by Joe Masteroff; Music by John Kander; Lyrics by Fred Ebb.
Based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood.
Musical Supervisor/Vocal Arrangements: Patrick Vaccariello
Choreography re-created by Cynthia Onrubia; Cast: Jon Peterson (Emcee) Jenna Zito Clark (Rosie) Chelsey Clark (Lulu) Laura Sheehy (Frenchie/Gorilla) Kendal Hartse (Texas)Alison Ewing(Fritzie/Fraulein Kost) Sarah Bishop (Helga) Joey Khoury (Bobby) Andrew Hubacher (Victor) Ryan DeNardo (Hans/Rudy) Tommy McDowell (Herman/Customs Official/Max) Leigh Ann Larkin (Sally Bowles) Benjamin Eakeley (Clifford Bradshaw) Patrick Vaill (Ernst Ludwig) Mary Gordon Murray (Fraulein Schneider) Scott Robertson (Herr Schultz) Alex Bowen recording (Boy soprano) Fred Rose recording (Customs Official.)
Set Design by Robert Brill
Costume Design by William Ivey Long
Lighting Design by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari
Sound Design by Keith Caggiano
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
Kennedy Center, from July 11 to August 6, 2017.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at July 13, 2017 performance.

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