A musical that offers us escape into a Berlin nightclub at the same time it makes us wonder what we would do faced with growing fascism in 1931 Germany, opened Friday at Broadway Theater, 1613 N Broadway.
At first, pure show business ruled the Reduxion Theatre Company performance of the 1998 revival script of “Cabaret,” based on stories by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.
Kaleb Bruza, as the seductive, sexually ambiguous emcee, welcomed us to Berlin in the first two iconic numbers, introducing spectators, seated at cabaret tables rather than in seats, to the Kit Kat Klub chorus.
Half naughty and half decadent, clad in bras, panties and black stockings, female chorus members Sarah Henry, Jessica Schinske, Jillian Paige, Elizabeth Dragoo, Jennifer Teel and Kylie Groom nearly stole the show. This was especially true of the first act numbers in which Bruza joined Schinske and Groom to act out a fantasy of being with “Two Ladies,” and led the chorus in a mocking tribute to “Money.”
But if the girls of the chorus were “beautiful,” so were its boys, played with just enough ambiguous sexual suavity and swagger by Scotty Taylor and Sheridan McMichael.
Ultimately, however, it was the performances of the musical's main characters, and its underlying story, that made the most lasting and moving impression on the capacity opening night audience.
Haulston Mann was just tentative and naive enough, and tough enough when it counted, as American wannabe writer Cliff Bradshaw, who thinks he has arrived in Paradise, only to find things rapidly going to hell.
Rachael L. Barry was delightful as Sally Bowles, celebrating her affair with Cliff in “Perfectly Marvelous,” and greatly entertaining us with “Don't Tell Mama,” “Mein Herr” and the nearly irresistible title song. But if Barry sung the role well, she did an even better job of getting across the underlying vulnerability and feeling that it can't last of the English singer, who is temporarily the toast of Berlin's demimonde.
Doing a fine job of developing the most important subplot — the impact of anti-Semitism on ordinary people's lives — were Elin Bhaird, as the landlady, and Terry Veal, as her Jewish suitor, who owns a fruit stand.
Bhaird touchingly teamed with Veal in “It Couldn't Please Me More” and “Married,” and asked audience members poignant questions they couldn't answer in “So What?” and “What Would You Do?”
Other excellent support came from Teel, who provided comic relief in her second role as Fraulein Kost, a slightly sleazy prostitute-tenant who introduces all her sailor clients as relatives.
Sam Bearer seemed forthright, despite his smuggling sideline, as Ernst Ludwig, the kind of friend you'd want until it became clear he was a Nazi, and led the company with Teel in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”
Giving “Cabaret” even more bittersweet impact was the always-in-control Bruza, who morphs into a potential victim of the new Nazi order in Act 2, but sings, in strangely appealing fashion, “I Don't Care Much.”
Brilliantly directed and choreographed by Matthew Sipress, with a four-piece ensemble led by Brian Osborne supplying the jazz beat, and superb period costumes by Jeffrey Meek, the R-rated musical is highly recommended.
— John Brandenburg