CHATHAM, NJ – Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret” has had a couple of durable Broadway runs and a hit movie with Liza Minelli, Joel Grey and a brilliant supporting cast.
In Chatham, another talented cast delivers this play’s powerful message of anti-Semitism (and anti-gay attitudes) on the eve of Nazism in the Berlin of 1929-1930.
Based on John van Druten’s “I Am a Camera,” the plot swirls around Sally Bowles, a singer from England who is appearing at the risqué Kit Kat Klub. Katherine Le Fevre is the sultry singer who falls in love with the handsome Cliff Bradshaw, a writer from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Steve Sharkey is her appealing boyfriend. He can see the writing on the wall as the Nazis gain more control, but Sally is oblivious to that reality.
But the real centerpiece of this production is the androgynous Emcee, stunningly played by John Sechrist. Sechrist has played this part before, according to his credits, and he brings a sensual, sly interpretation to the role.
Other standouts are Pat Wry as Fraulein Schneider and Steven Nitka as Herr Schultz. She runs a boarding house and he has a fruit store. They’ve both led lonely lives and have now found a loving relationship with each other. Their songs together provide a moving contrast to the raucous nightclub numbers.
Also very good is Stacey Petricha as Fraulein Kost, with her series of German Navy boyfriends. When she and Chip Prestera as Ernst Ludwig lead the chorus in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” at the end of Act I, we begin to see the throbbing, military takeover of what will become Nazi Germany.
Special mention should be made of Sean McManus as the Young Boy who introduces the song as a Hitler Youth, in a sweet, innocent clarity. It would have been a treat to hear more from him.
Music from “Cabaret” is familiar, yet still carries quite a wallop, from “Willkommen” to “Mein Herr” and the haunting “Maybe This Time,” sung by Sally. Throughout, there is a frightening undercurrent of what we know is to come. Especially devastating is “If You Could See Her” between the Emcee and a chorus girl dressed as an ape. All the music, in fact, is smoothly integrated into the plot, with much of it taking place in the club. The savage mood of some of the songs contrasts with an almost sickening innocence in other numbers.
The Kit Kat chorus girls were sexy and precise, especially in Act II’s “Entr’acte/Kick Line” with their goose stepping maneuvers.
The Kit Kat Girls Orchestra, on a platform at the rear of the stage, is directed by Jill Finnerty and beautifully augments the singers.
Jeffrey Fiorello directed this heady production, with costumes by Fran Harrison and lighting by Richard Hennessy. Some of the actors could have projected more clearly in their dialogue, particularly in the small space where an audience absorbs sound.
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