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Porchlight’s ‘Cabaret’ a Bravura Production of a Chillingly Timely Broadway Classic

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(Left to right) Gilbert Domally (Clifford Bradshaw) and Erica Stephan (Sally Bowles) in Porchlight Music Theater’s “Cabaret.” (Liz Lauren)

Read the headlines these days and the sharp, sardonic edge of “Cabaret,” the Tony Award-winning 1966 musical extraordinaire with an alternately violent and heartbreaking score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, sounds more chilling and tongue-in-cheek than ever.

As Sally Bowles, the unapologetic, free-spirited British performer at the center of the story, puts it, “Life is a cabaret, old friend; come to the cabaret. Those lyrics suggest an escape into a world of decadence, debauchery and fun. But, of course, life invariably rears its many ugly heads in the form of the most brutal warfare, rabid anti-Semitism, other forms of discrimination, and so much more. And the Porchlight Music Theater’s knockout revival of the show is an absolute jaw-dropper. It is driven by sharp direction by Michael Weber, highly charged choreography by associate director and choreographer Brenda Didier, impeccable musical direction by Linda Madonia and an absolutely stunning cast supported by a six-piece band.

What also drives this show is his book that starkly defines the character of Joe Masteroff, based on John Van Druten’s 1951 play, ‘I Am a Camera’. The initial source was “Farewell to Berlin,” the 1939 semi-autobiographical novel by Christopher Isherwood, which captured the brazenly free and short-lived era of Germany’s Weimar Republic in the years between the end of World War I and the rise of the Nazi regime.

Central to the musical is the sexually charged nightlife of Berlin’s particularly raunchy Kit Kat Klub, where scantily clad, suggestive women (some of whom work as prostitutes) sing and dance along with a group of gay choir boys. This is also where Sally Bowles (Erica Stephan), the adventurous English singer, is the lead performer, and where a seasoned and tantalizing master of ceremonies (Josh Walker) lends just the right ironic touch to the whole business.

On the more domestic front is Fraulein Schneider (Mary Robin Roth), a strong-willed German woman who runs a boarding house she tries (in vain) to keep free of prostitutes. There she strikes a tough deal with a visiting American writer, Clifford Bradshaw (Gilbert Domally), who has come to Berlin in a desperate attempt to ignite inspiration for her novel. Meanwhile, Schneider is being courted by the gentleman Herr Schultz (Mark David Kaplan), a widower and fruit seller who happens to be Jewish.

(middle) Neala Barron (Fräulein “Fritzie” Kost) and cast members of “Cabaret” from the Porchlight Music Theater.  (Liz Lauren)(middle) Neala Barron (Fräulein “Fritzie” Kost) and cast members of “Cabaret” from the Porchlight Music Theater. (Liz Lauren)

Weber’s casting for “Cabaret” couldn’t be more ideal, with outstanding performances from Stephan as the powerful, strong-willed and opportunistic Bowles; the dapper Domally (who happens to be Black), as the sexually fluid Bradshaw, who finally sees the political writing on the wall; Roth as fiercely self-protective Fraulein Schneider; Kaplan as her warm and determined suitor who doesn’t quite see the threat of the emerging Nazi onslaught; and Walker, the physically diminutive but immensely engaging presenter who brings just the right touch to the time and place and the dangerous political shift he is witnessing.

Didier’s unabashedly sexually charged choreography for chorus girls of all shapes and sizes (dressed in suggestive Bill Morey costumes), along with acrobatic male dancers and singers, sets the tone for the Kit Kat Klub. And Angela Weber Miller’s multi-level set deftly suggests the public and private worlds of the story.

One final note: if, like me, you’ve seen both the original Broadway production (with the incredible Joel Gray as host and Lotte Lenya as Fraulein Schneider), and the film version (with Grey, with Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles) , you will be captivated by the powerful realism and intimacy of this Porchlight production. I highly recommend coming to this “Cabaret”.

“Cabaret” is running through February 12 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St. For tickets to the musical – plus two special performances (February 8 and 9) of Van Druten’s rarely revived play , “I Am a Camera”, to be directed by Nate Cohen – visit PorchlightMusicTheatre.org or call (773) 777-9884.

Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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