Theater Review: Cinnabar’s ‘Cabaret’ timely and powerful

Hovering on the brink of World War II, Berlin’s dazzling night life - as recreated in Kander and Ebb’s 1961 musical “Cabaret,” now running at Cinnabar Theater - is addictively carefree and deliciously uninhibited, both the patrons and the performers seemingly unaware of the shadow creeping toward the city’s boisterous party atmosphere. A young American author, Cliff Bradshaw, is understandably drawn to its sensual pleasures, primarily those available within the decadent cabaret known as The Kit Kat Club, accidentally discovering love along the way.

To Cliff (Lucas Brandt), Berlin is marvelous and attractive, only gradually recognizing the country’s dire political situation, along with the rapidly strengthening bias against Germany’s Jewish population. Patriotism soon becomes interchangeable with racism, while characters go about their daily lives, oblivious. As the Nazis slowly and steadily take power, Cliff considers leaving Berlin before matters grow worse, fearing for the futures of those he’s come to care for, who refuse to admit the Germany they knew is already gone.

Berlin’s obsessive nationalism takes center stage in a rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” swelling with horrible splendor as characters step into line to join the growing chorus, leaving outsiders standing helplessly to one side, watching their friends and neighbors joining the cause.

Cinnabar’s production captures this chilling descent into madness through sumptuous music and inspired direction by Elly Lichenstein, who draws on Holocaust imagery that builds toward a viscerally disturbing finale.

There are no weak links in this powerful cast, whose ensemble chemistry is riveting. The quiet romance of Fräulein Schneider (Mary Gannon Graham) and Jewish shop owner Herr Schulz (Michael Van Why) includes contemplative songs questioning whether it is worth risking stability for the possibility of something better in life. Cliff (Brandt) and firecracker British performer Sally Bowles (Alia Beeton) struggle to understand the nature of love, leading to misunderstandings, emotional panic, and lost opportunities.

Michella Snider’s hands-on choreography - full of aerial lifts, touches of jazz age dancing and liberated sensuality - gives the Kit Kat Club a hedonistic attraction. Sequined gowns, bow ties and sexy corsets (designed by Jolie O’Dell) reinforce the night club’s allure. Ever-present and fiercely energetic, Michael McGurk’s Master of Ceremonies sets the tone with a radiant stage presence.

German accents, maintained when singing, are difficult to understand at times, particularly when the lyrics are quick and decisive. The marvelous orchestra, led by Mary Chun, is delightful. Unfortunately, the actors do not use microphones in this production, and are often drowned out by the orchestra.

Those issues aside, Cinnabar Theater’s haunting “Cabaret,” with vivid staging and a first-rate ensemble, is a superb production, one that clearly and powerfully carries an all-too-timely warning against indifferent acceptance of the status quo.

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