THEATER REVIEWS : 'Cabaret' Looks Good, Needs Life

"Cabaret" has never been one of those grin-and-giggle musicals. With Nazism hanging heavily over everything, how could it be?

Director Gary Krinke takes the show's underlying seriousness to heart with his staging for Prism Productions at the Curtis Theatre. This is a darkly lit and somberly cast "Cabaret" that seeks to emphasize the prejudice and immorality that seemed to define Germany during the rise of Hitler.

Based on Christopher Isherwood's "Berlin Stories" and John van Druten's play "I Am a Camera," the show, first produced in 1966, is set primarily in Berlin's steamiest hot spot, the Kit Kat Club. That's where singer Sally Bowles and a devilish master of ceremonies preside over the city's night-crawlers, most oblivious to the Nazi threat around them.

It's a rather atmospheric musical, and the Prism production scores on that level. Ben Baird's set utilizes the small stage well, giving the audience an environment that shifts from the decadent Kit Kat to the intimate homes of the musical's main characters.

While this "Cabaret" has the looks down, it's less successful in other areas. The singing is spotty, and the pacing plods. Krinke may want to probe the musical's gloomier elements but drains much of its juice in the process.

Steve Glaudini does what he can as the Kit Kat's emcee. He takes the role made famous by Joel Grey in Bob Fosse's 1972 movie and gives it the needed edge of creepiness. When he sings, it's as if he's finding insinuation in just about every song. He's a strange and unsettling dude, but he's fun.

Aileen Marie Scott as Sally and Braden Pierson as boyfriend Cliff can't keep up. Scott isn't vivid enough as that troubled live-wire of a chanteuse, and Pierson is too bland even for the bland would-be writer Cliff.

Scott does serviceable work on most of Sally's big numbers, but "Maybe This Time" and other signature hits aren't the show-stoppers they could be.

* "Cabaret," Curtis Theatre, 1 Civic Center Circle, Brea. Tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. $7 to $15. (714) 990-7722. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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