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‘Cabaret’ powerful in both directing and acting

Maurice Barnfather

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,

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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

power.

The tone of this revival is decisively set by Ben Magallanes Jr.'s

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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

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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

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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.


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