Can a 51-year-old musical maintain freshness in the 21st Century? Oh yes — “Cabaret” is even more powerful than when it came out, and eerily relevant today.
This national touring production of Roundabout Theatre Company’s acclaimed 2014, on stage at The Fox Theatre, revival is a special show, an insightful twist to a Broadway classic — seamless in execution and haunting in its construction.
Its impact is evident as the audience filed out in silence, moved and mesmerized. We are always aware of the gathering storm that would lead to World War II and the Holocaust.
A potent mix of decadence, sexual dalliances and polarizing politics is present in the seedy Kit Kat Klub in Berlin. It’s 1931 when the Nazis were rising, the end of the Weimar era.
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People there either don’t care or don’t understand what’s happening all around them. And supporters are steadfastly loyal to the new Germany.
Both the innocent and spirited renditions of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” will send chills down your spine.
This hard-hitting version is based on the innovative 1998 Tony-winning Sam Mendes-Rob Marshall collaboration. In an earlier London revival, they had deconstructed the heralded 1966 Hal Prince production, exposing even more layers.
The 1966 Tony winner introduced social commentary in novel concepts and unusual staging, and has endured the test of time, resonating so robustly in 2017.
As the cheeky emcee, Alan Cumming was the breakout star and the young buck directors went on to big Oscar-winning movie careers (”American Beauty” and ‘Chicago” respectively).
Mendes brilliantly stripped the glitzier piece down, making it tawdry and ominous in an intimate setting. Marshall’s provocative choreography punctuated the John Kander-Fred Ebb score with verve.
And they used the performers as the band, who add vivaciousness to the re-orchestrated score. This ensemble is a marvel of sight and sound precision. Their Act 2 opening number is a high-energy showcase for their musical instrument talents, a definite highlight.
The leading player is the emcee, who also lurks in other scenes, foreshadowing the international horror ahead. Jon Peterson is stunning as the saucy, cunning showman — funny jokester one minute, menacing presence later. He delivers a mighty “If You Could See Her” and ironic “I Don’t Care Much” with much vibrancy.
He and others in the cast came on tour straight from the Broadway revival, and their fluidity with each other is impressive.
Also first-rate are Leigh Ann Larkin as nightclub singer Sally Bowles and Benjamin Eakely as the broke American writer Clifford Bradshaw. They are strong together and heartbreaking separately.
Usually, the flighty, flaky Sally is unsympathetic, but Larkin draws us in, caring more about such a confused self-destructive mess. Her rendition of “Cabaret” is a gut punch and her “Maybe This Time” is full of raw, emotional yearning.
Standouts also included Mary Gordon Murray as world-weary Fraulein Schneider and Scott Robertson as kind fruit vendor Herr Schultz, a Jew. His plight and their doomed romance adds to the sinister undercurrent.
Murray’s memorable “So What” is a sad reminder of the choices we make and life’s turns. Their duet “It Couldn’t Please Me More” is a honey-coated look at a later-life romance.
Strong supporting players Alison Ewing as prostitute Fraulein Kost and Patrick Vaill as fervent Nazi Ernst Ludwig provide more edge as the not-so-subtle calculating characters.
The staging is brisk, as one scene melds into another quickly. The outstanding lighting design, by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari, shrewdly enhances the show.
Life is indeed this “Cabaret.” And warning, it does have adult content.
We won’t forget, we can’t forget the cautionary tale this enduring musical tells us, while it entertains with Kander-Ebb’s memorable score and dynamic performances. It’s a knockout.