The musical drama "Cabaret" has undergone more surgery than Joan Rivers since it first hit the Broadway stage in 1966, including an emasculated movie version that somehow won the best picture Oscar.
At Golden West College, director-choreographer Martie Ramm has returned to the original concept by Joe Masteroff (book), John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics), and the results are impressive indeed. This chronicle of a decadent pre-Hitler Berlin told through both the antics at a seedy night club and an ill-fated love story features some strong voices and noticeably fervent portrayals.
"Cabaret" centers on an American novelist searching for inspiration in the German capital in 1931, but instead finding the repellent rising tide of Nazism. Aware of the horrors to come, he endeavors vainly to pluck his singer-sweetheart out of the political cesspool.
Character development is particularly effective in the Golden West production, with some solid individual accomplishments projected. Both Gavin Hall as the writer and Angele Lathrop as the singer score highly, although it's Shirley Anne Hatton as the hotel proprietor who delivers the most mesmerizing performance, both dramatically and vocally.
Hatton, as a survivor of both war and economic hardship, brilliantly establishes her character both in her resigned solo "So What" at the outset and the grimly realistic "What Would You Do?" when things turn sour near the end. Her wealth of stage experience (including another turn in this role) serves her exceedingly well.
Hall serves as the writers' voice in his role as the scribe with an unflinching conscience, grimly fighting against the tide. He has but one solo and one duet, but he registers his valiant but futile opposition in a richly layered performance.
Lathrop sizzles at the outset as Sally Bowles, the English free-spirited songbird blissfully unaware of the encroaching terror, though she would be better served by a more emphatic rendering of the title song. One thing the movie got right was the placing of her hopeful "Maybe This Time" nearer the end of the show. As offered in this original version, it's merely an aside.
Another improvement by the otherwise inferior screen version is the song "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," presented as a solo by a towheaded boy of about 10. Here it's offered glumly by the Kit Kat Klub waiters before its more menacing reprise at the old folks' engagement party.
The centerpiece of all this romantic and political turmoil is the oily, grinning Kit Kat emcee, splendidly enacted by Tony Graham, as a representation of the decaying German Weimar Republic. Although he never interacts with the major characters, his ironic musical numbers paralleling their trauma are skillfully presented..
Perry Shields offers the closest aspect of comic relief available as the Jewish fruit merchant who pursues Hatton's landlady. His "Meeskite" is heartwarming, overshadowed as it is by the Nazi menace looming just inches away.
Bret Engle's dual nightclub and rooming house setting is smoothly transitioned while musical director-conductor Rick Heckman offers effective interludes. The costumes by Susan Thomas Babb, who also designed the makeup, are equally impressive.
"Cabaret" remains one of the premier stage musicals, despite myriad instances of artistic tinkering. Its original concept is strikingly on view in this fine production at Golden West College.
If You Go
Where: Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach
When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Call: (714) 895-8150 or visit http://www.gwctheater.com