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“Cabaret” has evolved through the years, based on the John Van Druten’s 1951 play “I am a Camera” (which itself was adapted from the 1939 short novel “Goodbye to Berlin”), inspiring the 1966 Broadway hit, an Academy Award nominated film and the many revivals and their fluctuating degrees of interpretations on stages spanning the globe.
For this sheltered critic, last Saturday’s Light Opera Works premier of “Cabaret,” at the gorgeous, 1000-seat Cahn Auditorium, was my first introduction to the musical-its lavish numbers, shimmering characters and subtly chilling exploration of the Nazi rise to power in 1930’s Berlin-and was excited that Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller chose to perform the original, 1966 version of the musical.
A superb cast, dynamic choreography by Stacey Flaster, elegant yet subtle set pieces by Angela Weber Miller, eccentric and dazzling costumes by Jesus Perez, along with Conductor Roger L. Bingaman and his orchestra’s vibrant recreation of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s now classic music, make this production an emphatic success.
For the first time since taking over as Light Opera Works Artistic Director in 2005, Rudy Hogenmiller returns to the stage as The Emcee, voraciously attacking the role like a great white to an injured seal pup. In “Cabaret,” The Emcee not only “welcomes” us (in the charming opening number “Wilkomen”) to the decadence of pre-WWII Berlin, he serves as the collective id of Germany, of Europe and America, sometimes as mute observer and other times as active participant. His primary role, however, is that of party-starter.
For those unfamiliar, “Cabaret” begins with the story of Cliff Bradshaw (David Schlumpf), a young American writer, creative inspiration while travelling through Europe. A bit naïve, Cliff yearns to absorb the cultural and political landscape of foreign lands he visits. His creative desire is derailed soon after arriving in Berlin. He falls in love (or lust, depending on your point of view) with a British singer/dancer Sally Bowles (Jenny Lamb is outstanding-she’ll break your heart by the end of the night) at the sleazy Kit Kat Klub.
Cliff, representing America, loses himself in booze, sex and the nightclub scene, passively dismissing the rise of the Nazi party. Later on, he becomes more complicit in the Nazi uprising, as he smuggles money for the secretive Ernst Ludwig (Matthias Austin) on train rides from France, never caring where the money is going, and profiting from the transaction nevertheless.
The greatest strength of this production lies in the fact that neither the performances nor the musical numbers overwhelm the stage. Jenny Lamb brilliantly sits back on key numbers, instead hitting just the right notes and belting them out at just the right time. Her initial exuberance fades to bleary sadness, as it should, and Ms. Lamb lures you in like an Ali rope-a-dope and sucker punches us right in the gut.
Also of note is the gentle sweetness brought to their roles by Barbara Clear (as German innkeeper Fraulein Schneider) and Jim Heatherly (as Jewish fruit market owner Herr Schultz). In duets such as “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married,” they brought undeniable warmth to the cool August evening.
“Cabaret runs through Sunday, August 25 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson Street. For tickets, call (847) 920-5360 or visit www.LightOperaWorks.com.