Ken Gray’s astute production of “Cabaret” not only hits the right
note of exuberant seediness but, despite its staging in the openness
of Glendale Community College’s Auditorium Mainstage Theatre,
cleverly achieves an intimacy that draws us into the audience at
Berlin’s notorious Kit Kat Klub, on the eve of Hitler’s rise to
The tone of this revival is decisively set by Ben Magallanes Jr.'s
Emcee, a bilious figure with a death’s-head stare and a voice free
from any hint of welcoming ingratiation.
While Magallanes’ Emcee has the right effeminate coldness, Bonnie
McMahan brilliantly captures the affected Chelsea airhead that is the
musical’s Sally Bowles. There is also a standout performance from
Jeff Leatherwood, whose seemingly gentle Clifford Bradshaw turns out
to be a rather tough cookie.
Two moments produce an authentic chill. One is when the guests at
an elderly couple’s engagement party reprise, with bright-eyed
fervor, the brownshirt anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”
The other, when Pat Paczynski’s Fraulein Schneider, in finally
rejecting Brian Keith Price’s aged Jewish fiance Herr Schultz,
announces that if the Nazis come, she will survive. In its equivocal
mixture of endurance and acquiescence, that says as much about the
spirit of Berlin in 1930 as all the show’s sex scenes.
Why does this work still haunt us and, far from being dated, still
resonate? The easy answer is to say it is because of the
memory-plaguing music of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s lyrics, here
given their authentic musical direction by Brent Crayon. But perhaps
it is that this work says things we recognize as true: the need to
sweep trouble under the carpet, and the idea that the bourgeois and
criminal worlds are interchangeable.
In a sense, the original Kander and Ebb stage musical was spoiled
by the 1972 film. But the virtue of this production is that it takes
us back to basics and reminds us that the seedy cabaret is a metaphor
for a then increasingly fascist Germany.