The sensible, searing, 8-time Tony Award-winning Kander and Ebb musical, “Cabaret” (with ebook by Joe Masteroff) is ready in a decadent, declining Berlin, 1931, simply because the Nazis are seizing energy and taking management.
After the present’s rapturous premiere in 1966, each subsequent manufacturing, starting, I feel, with the 1998 Broadway revival starring Alan Cumming because the Emcee on the seamy Equipment Kat Klub, the present grew to become grittier, seedier, sexier and extra Nazified. Administrators have particularly taken liberties with the ending, typically leaving audiences shell-shocked.
I’ve seen productions the place the entire solid is shot lifeless, or the place they’re all crammed into cattle-car transport trains. I’ve seen some the place the Emcee emerges through the finale as a Nazi — or a Jew.
At this important time in historical past, with the rising tide of fascism, sexism and racism right here at dwelling and overseas, it behooves a director to underscore the commonalities and relevances to our personal period.
And but, in his revival (Cygnet Theatre first produced the musical in 2011), consummate director Sean Murray appears to have harked again to the supply materials, the semi-autobiographical novel by Christopher Isherwood (“Goodbye to Berlin,” 1939).
So the ultimate moments function a form of flashback dream sequence, with all the primary characters replaying earlier scenes in simultaneous vignettes, because the American author, Cliff Bradshaw (Isherwood’s alter-ego within the piece), begins to jot down about his time within the sordid metropolis (“It was the top of the world… and we had been dancing… and we had been quick asleep”).
Revisiting this present now presents an excellent alternative to underscore the painfully topical themes that course via it: abortion, a crackdown on the rights of minorities (particularly Jews, as anti-Semitism and different racist sentiments have risen exponentially up to now a number of years; and likewise gays, as same-sex marriage appears to be subsequent on the SCOTUS chopping-block).
From the get-go, this manufacturing, a remount of the one Murray helmed 11 years in the past (for which he received a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Awards for Excellent Path), has been dogged by COVID-induced postponements, performer cancellations and understudy substitutions.
The night time I attended, three solid members had been out sick/quarantining, together with the lead, Karson St. John, who additionally received a critics Circle Award for her stellar efficiency because the Emcee.
It was a gutsy casting alternative (possibly I’ll return once more, to see her up to date tackle the horny and menacing character).
As an alternative, Allen Fortunate Weaver, who began out within the ensemble, as a Equipment Kat Woman, Helga, stepped in as understudy.
He does a high quality job, vocally and dramatically, however I didn’t get a way of the hazard — and on the finish, he was just about the identical as originally.
Wil Bethmann is stable and credible as Cliff, a homosexual/possibly bisexual man who falls in love with the chanteuse Sally Bowles. He’s greater than keen to avoid wasting her from her personal excesses, to spirit her away to his hometown in Pennsylvania to avoid wasting her from the oncoming onslaught in Germany, and to lift their little one.
Sally, street-wise however politically extremely naïve, is having none of it. She desires to dwell her hedonistic life to the fullest.
The mega-talented Megan Carmitchel, who offers off a healthful, girl-next-door vibe, has the steepest character arc on this manufacturing, devolving right into a cocaine- and gin-addicted mess. When, on the finish, she returns to the sleazy, abusive membership proprietor, Max (looming, ominous Luke H. Jacobs) and will get again on the stage to sing the title track, it’s no upbeat anthem to survival. She’s damaged, and she or he utterly breaks down. It’s an exquisite efficiency.
Sally would be the glittering centerpiece of the present, however its beating, breaking coronary heart is the late-life, doomed romance between the German landlady Fraulein Schneider and the Jewish fruit-merchant Herr Schultz. On this manufacturing, it’s much more poignant, as performed by Linda Libby (reprising her function from 2011) and her real-life husband, Eddie Yaroch. They’re so candy collectively; we root for them to work it out, bricks via the window be damned.
However when she steps downstage and sings the gut-wrenching pragmatist’s conundrum, “What Would You Do?,” it forces each considered one of us to ask ourselves exactly that. And never simply theoretically. For us, too, “the storm (is) within the wind,” “the partitions (are) closing in.” Can we flip a blind eye, or take a stand?
Within the wildly artistic construction of the present, many of the songs are carried out as cabaret acts on the squalid Equipment Kat Klub, every a form of caricatured, musicalized Greek refrain, offering commentary on what’s happening within the plot and within the nation (e.g., anti-Semitism — “If You May See Her,” a provocative love track between the Emcee and a tutu-wearing, cavorting however right here, extremely simian, gorilla; and the chilling Nazi promissory be aware: “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”).
Right here, the Nazi facet is refined — no huge, crimson swastika flags or storm-troopers. No plethora of armbands. It’s the pure, high-tenor voice of a Hitler youth that will get me each time (Trevor Cruse sings it fantastically). Usually, I’ve been lowered to tears as that quantity ended the primary act.
However not this time. The terrifying actuality of its seduction of autocracy, even within the act-ending reprise, with the remainder of the corporate becoming a member of in, doesn’t land.
It was additionally one thing of a shock that the Equipment Kat orchestra, all the time described by the Emcee as “stunning,” is just not a gaggle of scantily-clad gals. Of the six skillful musicians (below the baton of musical director Patrick Marion), just one has a feminine title — they usually’re all wearing staid, somber black.
Down beneath, the set, based mostly on Sean Fanning’s authentic design, appears much less tawdry than the final time, as do the costumes (Zoë Trautmann). The lighting (Amanda Zieve) leans closely on a mirror ball. The sound (Evan Eason) is obvious. Katie Banville’s choreography works nicely.
I used to be actually moved. However I needed to be devastated, to really feel that this was not only a obscure cautionary story however an pressing exhortation to get up, an eye-opening reminder of what’s happening outdoors our personal little Equipment Kat bubbles. Our republic, like that of 1931 Germany, is at peril, below assault. And no track can sing that away.
- “Cabaret” runs via Sept. 18 at Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs Avenue in Outdated City San Diego
- Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
- Tickets ($40-$78) could be bought at 619-337-1525 or cygnettheatre.com
- Operating time: 2 hrs. 40 min.
- COVID Protocol: Masks should be worn indoors always.
Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Affiliation, is a long-time San Diego arts author and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and opinions could be discovered at patlauner.com.