The Kit Kat Klub is in full, brassy flower as a jazzy all-female band fills the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium with bawdy music.
Sally Bowles (the vivid Rende Rae Norman) is knocking out "Don't Tell Mama" with the sprightly Cabaret Girls. It's decadent Berlin, New Year's Eve, 1930, and, lurking in the shadows, the Nazis are creeping to power.
"Willkommen" sings the reptilian emcee (Ira Denmark) with a smack of the lips. Indeed, welcome to the Tony-winning 1966 Broadway musical "Cabaret." Produced by the Music Theatre of Southern California, the show has enough tacky glitter and ominous undertones to please old-time "Cabaret" fans and young patrons alike.
The second show (following "Kismet") of the former Civic Light Opera's 11th season, the production boasts a uniformly strong cast with particularly flavorful secondary roles, always the mark of a good company. In fact, a deceptive credibility behind the razzmatazz belongs to Robert Fleet's robust German political activist, who bears an uncanny resemblance, in speech and manner, to Ralph Fiennes, who played the commandant in the movie "Schindler's List."
When jovial Fleet shows up at a wedding party at the Kit Kat Klub casually sporting a red and black swastika on his sleeve, the effect sends a palpable chill through the 1,442-seat auditorium.
Deepening the subtle terror is the gripping reprise of the number that brings down the first act curtain, "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," a signal of events to come darkly sung by prostitute Fraulein Kost (Karen Hause), arrogant Ernst Ludwig (Fleet) and guests.
Make no mistake, those guests, including the saucy Klub Kittens in their yellow lace panties and black silk stockings and garters, not to mention an amusing quartet of roguish sailors who teeter into Kost's bedroom, continually enliven proceedings.
In many ways, in fact, the star of the musical is found backstage--veteran choreographer Rikki Lugo who inventively enlivens the prankish routines (and who will be honored at the theater March 10 with a splashy reception and Civic Auditorium Life Achievement Award).
In a "Willkommen" touch, the show has cast two African American women (dancer Crystal Williams and Kit Kat lounge lizard Stephanie Brooks) in a musical that's normally all-white.
Vocally, bolstered by a huge pit orchestra directed by M. Roger Lockie, memorable numbers are "Why Should I Wake Up," sung by Paul Keeley as the American novelist Clifford Bradshaw who gets in over his head, Norman's rendition of the title song "Cabaret," slithering emcee Denmark's lascivious "Willkommen," and Bette Rae and S. Marc Jordan's "Married." The latter is the joyous wedding song performed by Fraulein Schneider's landlady and Herr Schultz's fruit merchant, the doomed Jewish peddler who insists things will get better.
Based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, the production is directed by Bill Shaw, who has marshaled a faithful revival of the Tony-winning show originally directed by Harold Prince.
* "Cabaret," San Gabriel Civic Auditorium, 320 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, 8 tonight through Saturday and Feb. 24 and 25 , 2 p.m. matinee Sunday and Feb. 25 and 26. Tickets $23-$43. (818) 308-2868 or (213) 480-3232. Closes Feb. 26. Running time: 2 hrs, 50 min.