Stated as succinctly as possible, I love “Cabaret.” It is one of the greatest of modern musical theater productions. Whether done on Broadway or in a community theater, it is a knockout — funny, titillating and heart-wrenching. Combining hedonism run amok with one of the most horrific events in human history and setting it to music makes for theater that grabs the mind and heart.
The staging of “Cabaret” at Tacoma Little Theatre is as good as any production I’ve ever seen. The music, the acting, the costumes and choreography are outstanding, and the icing on the cake is that director John Munn has added some surprisingly effective twists to this well-known show.
It is Berlin 1931. Hitler is coming into power. The Kit Kat Klub revels in decadence with performances by showgirls and boys that celebrate lewdness. The headliner is English showgirl Sally Bowles (Elise Campello), who makes no bones about having slept her way into a showbiz career. An expatriate American writer, Cliff Bradshaw (Niclas R. Olson), comes to Berlin and gets involved in the seedy life of Berlin’s bohemian scene and falls in love with Sally. As they try to navigate the ups and downs of love and life, the Nazi juggernaut comes to power. Cliff sees that the Nazis are a threat to them and their friends, but Sally and many of the others shrug it off.
The emcee at the Kit Kat (Mauro Bozzo) stirs the already boiling pot. Bozzo is sassy and flirtatious as the naughty emcee. His holds the audience in his hand from the rousing opening number, “Willkommen” through the sexy “Two Ladies” and the absurdly comical “If You Could See Her (through my eyes),” which makes a powerful political point disguised as pure silliness. Bozzo is simply marvelous both as an actor and as a singer.
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Campello plays Bowles as a lurid and brazen sexpot with undertones of sweetness and even naiveté — undertones skillfully conveyed not so much with her words but with her expression. Her brashness in songs like “Mein Herr” and “Don’t Tell Mama” perfectly complement the emcee’s risqué demeanor. She elevates brazen sexiness to high comedy and then becomes achingly serious with the sadness and longing of the song, “Maybe This Time,” expressing self-doubt in private that she can never show publicly. And she reveals shocking raw anger and hurt in the final version of the title song.
Rosalie Hilburn as Fraulein Schneider and Joseph Grant as Herr Schultz capture our hearts in the subplot centering on their love affair. Both are charming and delightful, and they break our hearts. The tenderest of moments in the developing love story between these two elderly Germans is when they sing “It Couldn’t Please Me More” (the pineapple song). In the midst of this sweet love song they stop singing and pantomime the actions of the elderly lovers as the song continues offstage, sung by Rachel Fitzgerald, who also is hilarious as the happiest of hookers, Fraulein Kost.
The book by Joe Masteroff skillfully weaves together raunchy good times and the looming terror of Nazism’s rise to power, intensified by the music of the great songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb. Adding significantly to the devil-may-care atmosphere of the Kit Kat Klub are the scantily dressed Kit Kat Girls (Amanda Jackson, LaNita Hudson, Haley Kim and Kathy Kluska) whose dancing to Lexi Barnett’s choreography is acrobatic and comical. Also adding to the air of decadence are the costumes by Michele Graves.
The house was full the night I went, and I suspect it will be every night of this show, so call for tickets as early as possible.