BWW Reviews: CABARET Boasts Outstanding Performances in an Intimate Setting at the San Pedro Theatre Club
The San Pedro Theatre Club presents CABARET, a musical based on a book written by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. The production is directed by Drew Fitzsimmons and Victoria Miller, who also choreographed, with music directed by Leslie Sharp. The intimate 78-seat theater allows the actors to interact with the audience on several occasions, making it really feel as if we are inside the small German cabaret rather than watching a show about it.
The 1966 Broadway production became a hit, inspiring numerous subsequent productions in London and New York, as well as the 1972 film by the same name starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey. CABARET is based on John Van Druten's 1951 play "I Am a Camera," which was adapted from the short novel Goodbye to Berlin (1939) by Christopher Isherwood.
Set in 1931, we first meet aspiring American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Matthew Craig) as he travels to Berlin by train in search of inspiration. He soon discovers the wild German nightlife at the seedy Kit Kat Klub where English cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Michelle Zelina) and several sexy dancers offer more to patrons than just the show. Zelina has a lovely and very powerful voice and great stage presence, but the character seems a little too much of a Liza parody. However, Zelina handles the singing and dancing with great panache, often interacting with the audience and enjoying the banter.
Overseeing the action is the Master of Ceremonies (Drew Fitzsimmons) who encourages patrons to leave their troubles outside and he happy for a few hours where everything is beautiful. But is it really with the Nazis rising to power? Fitzsimmons embodies the Emcee role with every fiber of his being, adding nuances I have never seen in any other production of the musical. Most notably is his salute to Charlie Chaplin, throwing a large ball decorated as planet Earth around the stage and into the audience, and his brilliant final costume transforming the Emcee into a Jewish concentration camp denizen.
Sally ends up moving in with Cliff at a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Christopher Callen) who is being pursued by one of her tenants, Herr Schultz (David Fairchild), a Jewish fruit shop vendor. These two are consummate performers and every moment they are onstage brings their characters closer to our hearts. They have beautiful, loving moments as their relationship develops, most notably when she is presented with an expensive pineapple as a gift.
Their doomed romance reflects the threatening state of late Weimar Germany, symbolically represented in "If You Could See Her" during which the Emcee lovingly sings about a gorilla, most realistically as well as comically performed by Kenji Donville. Their dance duet is the cutest number in the show, much to the credit of Victoria Miller who adds her impeccable choreography skills into every number in the show, especially the fantastic chair work during "Mein Herr" with Sally and the Kit Kat Girls, "Two Ladies" with Fitzsimmons and two lovely Kit Kat Girls who dare to bare almost everything, "Money" and the show-stopping title number at the end of the show.
Other notable performers are Michael Sandidge as Ernst, the likeable German businessman who turns out to be raising money for the Nazis, and Kathleen Grosky as Fraulein Kost, the whore next door to Fraulein Schneider who takes in sailors for an hour or two to pay the rent. Shivers went up my spine when these two characters sung "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" knowing full well their Germanic pride was going to put real horror into the world.
The multi-level, black, white and red deco set designed by Fitzsimmons and built by James Rodriquez allows the action to flow, but often much too slowly. I am not sure why the pacing seemed off the night I saw the show, as even the musical numbers' speed seemed to be out of whack. Scene changes are handled by the cast while the Emcee distracts the audience with either a song or comments about society. But again, the pacing could be a lot faster to keep the show moving forward rather than stalling.
As always, costume designer extraordinaire Valerie Wright has worked her magic, coordinating costume colors that mesh with the bold set and many sexy Kit Kat ensembles that put all of the dancers' assets on full display. The 8-piece band led by musical director Leslie Sharp includes Marianne Rottstein, Kael Sharp, William Ardelean, Felipe Constanza, Crystal, Ellen, and the remarkable Arthur Garrison on drums.
So come visit the Kit Kat Klub, where the Emcee, Sally Bowles and a raucous ensemble of Kit Kat Dancers will tantalize you to leave your troubles outside and join the party!
CABARET runs through June 8 on Thurs-Fri-Sat at 8pm and Sun at 2pm. The show will be extended through the end of June with dates announced soon.
The San Pedro Theatre Club
624 South Pacific Ave
San Pedro, CA 90731
Box Office: 310-600-3466 or JDMCPHERSON6@GMAIL.COM
Emcee - Drew Fitzsimmons
Sally Bowles - Michelle Zelina
Cliff - Matthew Craig
Herr Schultz - David Fairchild
Fraulein Schneider - Christopher Callen
Fraulein Kost/Fritzy - Kathleen Grosky
Ernst - Mike Sandidge
Frenchie - Donna Smilowitz
Texas - Katelyn Martin
Helga - Michelle Reese
Lulu - Jazzy Jones
Rosie - Janice Garcia
Bobby/Sailor #1 - Nik Castanon
Victor/Sailor #2/Gorrilla - Kenji Donville
Hans/Sailor #3 Rudy - Terren Mueller
Max - Fabio Denino
Photos by John Middlekoop
Michelle Zelina and the Kit Kat Girls
Michelle Zelina and the Kit Kat Girls
Drew Fitzsimmons and the Kit Kat Ensemble