Theater Review: ‘Cabaret’ by Marty Fugate

The Nazi party wasn’t much of a party. Not a fun-loving bunch, those guys. Even so, their jackboots, leather accessories and sweaty outdoor rallies had a sadomasochistic, decadent association — a hint that, deep down, those Nazi boots were kinky boots. When it comes to this theory, “Cabaret” is exhibit one.

This Broadway smash (music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; script by Joe Masteroff) is a musical theater adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” and John Van Druten’s play, “I am a Camera,” based on that book. That complicated chain of adaptation leads back to eyewitness testimony — namely Isherwood’s, who actually lived and wrote in early 1930s Berlin, like his fictional character. My point? There’s decadent fact behind the musical’s fiction. Ironically, it’s a musical about people who don’t want to face facts.

Most of the action unfolds in the Kit Kat Klub, a decadent endroit reflecting poor spelling skills. The Emcee (Ross Boehringer) is elfin yet creepy (think “The Hobbit” gone bad) with a leering, groping approach to sexuality. Sally Bowles (Danae DeShazer) is the star attraction — an expatriate Brit with a heart of iron pyrite and very good legs. (The same can be said of the Kit Kat girls, kickingly played by Amanda Heisey, Melissa Ingrisano, Sabrina McClenithan, Lindsay Nickel and Lauren Ward.) American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Scott Vitale) stumbles into this scene. Before long, Sally’s living in his rented flat and he’s smuggling packages for a German pal (Paul Hutchinson) whom he met on the train. Thus begins the A-story: the unlikely affair of Sally and Cliff.

The B-story (cut from Bob Fosse’s movie) involves the autumn romance of Cliff’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Lilian Moore), and a fruit shop owner, Herr Schultz (Elliott Raines). Schultz happens to be Jewish. At the dawn of Nazi ascendance that’s a problem — and she breaks the romance off. Before that happens, their sweet story forms a normal counterpoint to the decadent world of the Kit Kat Klub. (Which, by 21st century standards, isn’t that decadent. There’s no twerking at all.)

Michael Newton-Brown’s direction deftly alternates between the demimonde of the club and the seedy apartment of the writer. The actors put in stunning performances, with special props for Boehringer’s sleazy master of ceremonies, DeShazer’s falling star and Vitale’s almost innocent abroad. Kelly Burnette’s choreography sizzles; Jared Walker’s costumes have the appropriate sleaze factor; Alan Jay Corey’s musical direction shines. (He’s got first-rate music to work with, of course — Kander and Ebb. But he does justice to their tunes.)

Like a 1930s gangster movie “Cabaret” bounces back and forth between the club’s guilty pleasures and the normal life of the flat. Like one of Hitchcock’s ticking time bombs, the Nazi threat is always there. (And Sally Bowles is always denying it.) This conveniently returns us to our original theory: Were the S&M Nazis and the decadent club performers two sides of the same coin?

Nah.

There’s plenty of sublimated sexuality in the Nazi scene, sure. But they weren’t big fans of that side of human nature, or the club scene in general. Ultimately, the stormtrooping set proved to be a problem for the Weimar era’s café artists. Check out the BBC’s “The Real Cabaret” to get an idea of their tragic fate.

Or check out this musical to get a sense of what Berlin’s 1930s cabaret life was like before the party ended.

Originally published on YourObserver.com