BWW Review: Jewish Ensemble Theatre's Production of CABARET is Sultry, Steamy and Oh-so Satisfying
What good is sitting alone in your room, when you can sit with fellow theatre lovers? Come to the Cabaret at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) and prepare for an electrifying night of fantastic music, dance and acting.
It's definitely true what they say: save the best for last. JET wraps its first season in its new space with Kander and Ebb's stunning musical, Cabaret. The JET space has been successfully-and dramatically-changed around since opening the season with Odd Couple, which was staged on a traditional, one-room set. Now, as this season comes to a close, Stephanie Baugher's realistic set design allows the audience to fully immerse themselves into the seductive, dark world of the Kit Kat Club by sitting at one of the bistro tables surrounding the stage.
Plan on arriving early to JET. Cabaret's Kit Kat girls, guys and gender fluid characters flirt and schmooze with the audience members while serving patrons beer and wine (don't forget to tip the hardworking actors). The houselights go down and we meet our Kit Kat Klub Emcee for the evening, Bello Pizzimenti. Pizzimenti is your charming, introspective chiseled host who successfully channels Alan Cumming who starred twice as the Emcee in Cabaret at NYC's Studio 54, winning a Tony Award in 1998 and reprising his titular role in 2014 with dream team Rob Marshall and Sam Mendes.
Cabaret is set in 1931 Nazi Germany and anti-semitism drives many of the character's choices. Those in need of an escape go to the Kit Kat Klub where we first meet the headliner, Sally Bowles (Mackenzie Conn), a free-spirit who catches the eye-and heart-of American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Connor Allston). When Bowles is fired from her gig at the Klub, Cliff invites her to come live with him at Fraulein Schneider's (Julia Glander) boarding house which serves as an unoffical brothel for many of the tenants including Fritzie (JET favorite Meredith Deighton). Tim Stone plays Nazi Ernst Ludwig.
Besides the love story of Cliff and Sally, Fraulein Schneider is being courted by Herr Schultz (Greg Trzaskoma), a Jewish fruit seller. Glander and Trzaskoma make a sweet couple, bringing just the right amount of tenderness, comedy and sadness that happens when religion and politics dictates one's decisions, often leading to an unhappy ever after.
Conn as Sally is an energetic dynamo and Allston is the perfect leading man. Allston played Charlie Price in the national tour of Kinky Boots. It's too bad we really don't get to hear Allston sing in his role as Cliff. Conn is backed by an incredibly talented group of dancers and singers, many whom also play in the onstage band. Director Chris Bremer-who also has a cameo as Max-has put together a first-rate cast who can handle the intricate choreography of Debbie Williams very well. The ensemble includes Elizabeth Kurkowski, Claire Lord, Anna Ventura, Mariel Zmarzly, Grant Cleaveland, Jake Rydell and Sara Kmiec who is an absolute stand-out in all of the roles she plays onstage.
Stacy White is the outstanding Music Director who is onstage for the first time with her sons, Grant Cleaveland and Lee Cleaveland. Long-time JET costumer, Mary Copenhagen, has created the perfect blend of sexy and risqué. It's an added bonus to see the ensemble members seamlessly go from an elaborate dance number to being part of the band.
Cabaret at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) runs weekends through Nov. 3. JET is located at 1124 E. West Maple Road in Walled Lake, MI.
Connect with JET at (248) 2777 or by going online to order tickets at www.jettheatre.org. On Facebook: Jewish Ensemble Theatre.
Photo by Ron Williams