BWW Reviews: Stray Dog Theatre's Finely Rendered Production of CABARET

BWW Reviews: Stray Dog Theatre's Finely Rendered Production of CABARET

Stray Dog Theatre tackles another classic musical, bringing Kander and Ebb's Cabaret to the stage at the Tower Grove Abbey on this occasion, and it's a splendid rendition that combines a strong cast with incisive direction. Some bench seats have even also been removed to allow for a group of smaller club tables to surround an extended stage that puts the show right in your lap. I like that. I'm always a fan of any presentation where the audience can actually feel the intensity that the actors are putting forth. This production is definitely worth seeing, and judging by the large crowds, tickets will go fast.

Cliff Bradshaw is a struggling American writer who stumbles across Ernst Ludwig. Ernst not only directs him toward a boardinghouse, but also provides him with income via English lessons and various smuggling trips to Paris. He meets Sally Bowles, an English girl singing for her supper (which consists mostly of gin) in the decadent Kit Kat Klub, and she moves in with him. Sally's discovery of her own pregnancy comes at the same time as the Nazi's rise to power. As their tale plays out we are also witness to the ill-fated engagement of landlady Fraulein Schneider to her Jewish tenant and lover, Herr Schultz. Predictably sour and sobering results occur as the Third Reich takes control.

Lavonne Byers makes for a riveting version of the androgynous Emcee, who guides the show through the action, beginning with the introductory tune, "Willkommen". Byer's portrayal is properly outrageous and intense as she stalks about the stage spying on any activity that piques her interest. Paul Cereghino is sharp as Cliff. He displays a good voice, and delivers a very compelling performance as an American novelist abroad, caught up in the wild and seamy world of Berlin in 1938. Paula Stoff Dean engages as Sally Bowles, and she gives her rendition of "Cabaret" the emotional weight necessary to make it work. An early number, "Don't Tell Mama", has naughty charm, while "Perfectly Marvelous" finds her duetting to good effect with Cereghino.

But, it's just as much about Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, respectively. Their story is truly tragic because politics and hatred destroy their chance at love. Jan Niehoff is especially strong during "So What?" and "What Would You Do", where she explains the rationale behind her rejection of Schultz's proposal. Ken Haller is a pitiable figure of a man as the dejected Jewish fruit grocer, Schultz. The wistful tune "Marriage" provides them with a lovely and hopeful moment to share.

A talented supporting cast includes: Sara Rae Womack, Angela Bubash, Eileen Engel, Jessica Tilghman, Kimberly Still, Deanna Mazdra, Mike Hodges, Michael Baird, Zach Wachter, and Brendan Ochs.

Justin Been's direction makes Cabaret a truly bawdy delight with a melancholy edge. Robert J. Lippert's scenic design fills the bill neatly and extends out into the audience to provide additional intimacy. Zachary Stefaniak's choreography has the cast oozing the necessary sexuality. Chris Petersen's work as music and vocal director is very well done, with strong vocals and accompaniment mixed at just the right level.Tyler Duenow's lighting scheme enhances the dour mood essential to this show, while Alexandra Scibetta Quigley's costumes bring the Kit Kat Club and the urban period settings to life with equal aplomb.

Stray Dog Theatre's finely rendered production of Cabaret continues through April 19, 2014 at the Tower Grove Abbey.

photo credit: John Lamb

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Chris Gibson Chris has been active in the local theatre scene for over 30 years. In addition to his acting work, he's also contributed as a director, writer and composer. Though, initially a film buff, he grew tired of the sanitized, PG-13 rated blockbusters that were being continually shoved down his throat by the studios. An opportunity to review theatre in St. Louis has grown exponentially with the sudden explosion of venues and talent in the region. He now finds himself obsessed with witnessing those precious, electric moments that can only happen live, on stage.

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