In Play Reviews

Cabaret is one of those musicals I never tire of, and its opening at Lakewood Theatre last Friday certainly bodes well for the 2017-2018 theatre season in the greater Portland area. Based on a play by John Van Druten with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, this Tony-winning show features memorable characters, a good story, and great songs.

Jon Gennari as Cliff Bradshaw and Kayla Dixon as Sally Bowles in Lakewood Theatre’s production of Cabaret. Photo by Triumph Photography.

The cabaret in the play is the seedy Kit Kat Klub in Berlin, 1931, and is introduced to a young, naïve American named Clifford Bradshaw (Jon Gennari) by a man he met on the train, Ernst Ludwig (Chad Dickerson). It’s New Year’s Eve, Cliff’s first night in town, and he encounters the British nightclub singer and the Kit Kat’s current star, Sally Bowles (Kayla Dixon). By the next day, Sally has moved in with him–uninvited–bags, baggage, and furs.

While Cliff tries to balance his life as a writer with the overwhelming distraction of Sally, much is going on at the club. It’s not so much the girls that concern us, but increasingly the Emcee (Chuck Ketter) and clientele–enthusiastic young followers of the emerging Nazi Party. Back at the boarding house, Cliff’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Maggie Chapin) is courted by one of her tenants, the local fruit vendor. As prospective joys turn to sorrow and lines are drawn in the sand, Cliff determines that this is not the best time to be in Berlin.

Outstanding songs: “Two Ladies” featuring Emcee and Kit Kat girls Ellie Forrest and Audrey Sackett; “Don’t Tell Mama”, Sally and the girls;  “It Couldn’t Please Me More” (I call it the Pineapple Song) with Herr Schulz and Fraulein Schneider; and the Nazi anthem “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” (a beautiful song despite what it stands for) with cast and ensemble. Kudos to Lakewood for fine performances all around, great staging (Chuck Ketter), excellent choreography (Laura Hiszcznskyj and musical direction (Beth Noelle), and wonderful, vampy costumes (Grace O’Malley) featuring a plethora of feathers and sequins!

The play’s director Ron Daum also appears on stage as the kindly and innocent Herr Schulz, the Jewish fruit vendor who believes the best in everyone he meets, while his counterpoint, Emcee, slides across the stage with oily malevolence. Two outstanding performances!

There surely is nothing accidental about the timing of Cabaret at Lakewood Theatre. The arts scene across the metropolitan area is drawing its lines in the sand. This production is a poignant reminder of who we are and what happens when good people do nothing. It’s a great show for ages 12 and up. It runs through October 15.

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