By Vicki Paris Goodman
It turns out “Cabaret” is more than a Liza Minnelli song fest owing its intensity to the threat of fascism looming over pre-WWII Berlin. There are indeed wonderful, moving, romantic subtleties that I never imagined. That is, until I attended the opening of International City Theatre’s luminous production of the multi-layered musical that will easily turn your heart inside out if you let it.
For me it was all about contrasts– between the vulgar sexuality that entertains guests at the Kit Kat Klub of 1930s Berlin and the modest and respectful love that briefly extinguishes an older couple’s loneliness; between a self-destructive life on the edge and the normalcy of marriage and parenthood; between those who supported the Nazi party and those who did not.
Director Jules Aaron’s talented cast operates at a distinct initial disadvantage. But after their audience finally stops expecting to see clones of Minnelli and Joel Grey, and begins to appreciate what these exceptional perfomers bring to the stage, a well-balanced, emotionally affecting and, I think, superior “Cabaret” emerges.
Erin Bennett’s softer and very British Sally Bowles is entirely believable as the love interest of the American Cliff Bradshaw, who is dreamy handsome and oh so decent as portrayed by Christopher Carothers. Jason Currie’s tall, imposing and utterly expressive emcee knows no inhibition.
Surprise highlights are the performances of Eileen T’Kaye as Fraulein Schneider, the landlady of the local rooming house, and her suitor Herr Schultz, played with such sweet passion by Paul Zegler. When the gift of a pineapple to the fraulein from Schultz’ fruit shop brought me to the verge of tears, I knew this “Cabaret” was different.
Joshua Ziel plays a very Germanic Ernst Ludwig, who befriends Sally and Cliff only to side with the Nazis to Cliff’s disgust and Sally’s frustrating indifference. Fraulein Kost, who pays rent to a disapproving Fraulein Schneider by “entertaining” sailors, is well acted by Kimberly Irion.
All taboo aside, the bisexuality that the movie hinted at gets a full-fledged coming–out party in this production.
Vocals run from good to absolutely stunning. Some of the finest singing in the show came from unexpected sources, like Carothers and T’Kaye. T’Kaye’s performance of the reality-insistent “So What?” blew me away.
Of course, Cabaret standards such as “Willkommen,” “Cabaret,” “Money” and “Maybe This Time” all receive creatively choreographed performances that reflect in mood and power the seriousness of the show’s evolving personal and political circumstances.
Other cast members are Aubrey Elson, Joseph Keane, Matthew Koehler, Tyler Milliron, Kelly Michelle Smith and Lauren Ziemski.
A five-piece orchestra, including an all-female brass/woodwind trio, provides live music throughout the performance. Don Llewellyn’s versatile set includes a working bar and a wavy-mirrored ceiling panel that makes an arresting reversal at the end.
Cabaret-style seating between the stage and the theater’s first row, available to some lucky audience members, added a pleasing realism to the night club setting.
“Cabaret” continues at International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 300 East Ocean Boulevard, through Mar. 9.
Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $35 and $40 on Thursdays; $40 and $45 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call (562) 436-4610 for information and reservations or visit ICT’s Web site at www.ictlongbeach.org.
By Vicki Paris Goodman