Group: NonProphet Theater Company
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand
Dates: July 30, 31, August 1
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 636-236-4831 or email@example.com
Story: Young American writer Cliff Bradshaw leaves his native Pennsylvania for a trip to Europe to energize his creative juices. En route to Germany and its free-wheeling capital, Berlin, he is befriended by a German nationalist named Ernst Ludwig, who tells him of a boarding house run by Fraulein Schultz where Bradshaw can stay, as well as the notorious Kit Kat Klub, a decadent hangout for bohemians, artists and assorted free spirits who revel in the carefree abandon of post-war Germany.
Trouble is brewing, however, as a growing number of unemployed Germans are smitten with the promise of a return to triumph by the fledging National Socialist Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler. As resentment and persecution of minorities such as Jews and homosexuals become more prevalent, Bradshaw implores his newfound friend and lover, English nightclub performer Sally Bowles, to rebuke the Nazis and the unwitting aid he’s supplied them as a messenger and move back to America.
Highlights: Christopher Isherwood began the artistic chain behind “Cabaret” with his autobiographical literary collection, “The Berlin Stories,” which in turn was the inspiration for John van Druten’s play, “I Am a Camera” and subsequently the Broadway musical, “Cabaret,” with a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The 1966 Broadway production spawned a successful 1972 movie directed by Bob Fosse and a reformulated 1998 Broadway revival co-directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.
The current production by NonProphet Theater leans heavily on the ‘98 revival, which allows the ambitious troupe to play to its strengths of performance interpretation in minuscule production locales. Additionally, artistic director Robert A. Mitchell employs the services of several local, bawdy burlesque queens, including ringleader Leah Schumacher (aka Lola Van Ella) in the pivotal role of Sally Bowles. While Schumacher’s singing is barely adequate and, indeed, at times even unfortunately short of that barometer, her acting shines as she captures the insular mind of the itinerant performer who lives one day, and one shot of gin, at a time.
Other Info: There’s also a very fine performance by Stephen Barnowski as the confused and naïve American writer. Barnowski additionally demonstrates a pleasing voice on the duet, “Perfectly Marvelous,” with Schumacher, who scores better on shared tunes than on her solo efforts. And Michael Perkins is splendid as the beguiling but sinister young Nazi, Ernst Ludwig, capturing the menace in the show that too often is missing with other players and, somewhat shockingly, frequently missed by a surprising number of attendees in the opening night audience.
The Lilliputian performing area at the Kranzberg brings an unfortunate claustrophobic effect to the proceedings, resulting in choreography by Kay Allen that seems a bit uncomfortable for lack of suitable breadth of space for the players. Oddly, even within this confined space Keith Parker as the lascivious Emcee often is difficult to understand, although he does score with the infectious opening number, “Wilkhommen.”
While the burlesque ladies bring their accustomed personae to the roles of the Kit Kat Klub girls, there just isn’t sufficient room for dance interpretations, even in this scaled-down version. Similarly, Heather Tucker’s barebones set design struggles to accommodate any kind of suitable atmosphere. As a result, a show-stopping number such as “The Money Song” here is awkwardly diminutive.
Nick Ulmansiek’s lighting reflects the tawdriness of the locale, as do Mitchell’s costumes, with some ominous complementary sound design by Perkins and an array of props provided by Mitchell and Tucker that help epitomize the setting as economically as possible.
Too often, though, Mitchell’s direction fails to capture the insidious evil at the foundation of “Cabaret,” opting instead for a false sense of happiness and fun. Supporting players in the cast include Cindy Duggan as Fraulein Schultz, Jim Hurley as her kindly Jewish suitor Herr Schultz and Sarah Porter as Schultz’s nasty tenant Fraulein Kost. The Kit Kat girls are comprised of Porter, Bitsy Bittersweet, Allen (aka Foxy La Feelion), Elizabeth Hull (aka GoGo McGregor) and Laura Gustafson (aka Elle Adorabelle). Michael Amoroso, Jonathan Ellison and Adam Weber play the Kit Kat boys.
Seth Ward Pyatt does triple duty as musical director, conductor and keyboardist of the orchestra, which provides a bouncy backup for the on-stage theatrics at a portion of stage left carved out for their earnest efforts. He’s assisted by percussionist Robin Weatherall, banjo player Michael Mason, Ellison on trumpet, trombonist Andrew Boostrom and Jason Kaminsky and Matt McKeever on reeds.
It’s always rewarding to see a production of “Cabaret,” and even with its limitations this NonProphet Theater version offers a different and often successful interpretation.
Rating: A 3.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.