BWW Reviews: Reprise's Definitive & Traditionally Brilliant CABARET
book by Joe Masteroff,
based on the play by John Van Druten and the stories of Christopher Isherwood
music by John Kander; lyrics by Fred Ebb
directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Reprise Theatre Company, Freud Playhouse, UCLA
through September 25 only
Perhaps Kander and Ebb's best musical, apart from Chicago, Cabaret has it all: a finely detailed book, deliciously diverse characters, dynamite music and a subtext that will not quit. The subtext being: either compromise or get out if you value your life, the latter, to be sure, the wiser. This is Berlin, circa 1930, before Hitler, but just as Nazi pressure hits the fan. Reprise Theatre Company's stellar new revival production has the brilliant stamp of Broadway director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge.
Whereas the 1972 Bob Fosse film was more tailor-made for Liza Minnelli's star power, one realizes upon revisiting the play that it is definitely an ensemble piece with the urgent participation of every single chorus member. After all they populate the Kit Kat Klub, lending it an uncannily vibrant as well as somber diversity. Following closely in this vein are the leading players Sally Bowles (Lisa O'Hare) and Cliff Bradshaw (Jeff McLean), whose character is based on writer Christopher Isherwood. Like day and night, they also set the tone for the entire show. MC (Bryce Ryness) plays a number of tricky disguises; like a chameleon, he's in and out deviously, playing both sides, keeping us guessing. Then there are those unquestionably trapped like Frau Schneider (Mary GorDon Murray) and Herr Schultz (Robert Picardo), who cannot express their love for one another without paying the price. The question of homosexuality hovers with a couple of chorus members making a play for Bradshaw, who is at first labeled bisexual. But it's very light and superfluous; the tragedy of the gay issue in Nazi Germany is explored much more fully and deeply in Martin Sherman's play Bent.
Dodge has gone back to an earlier representation of the work, unlike the exceedingly dark Roundabout revival in the 90s with its emphasis on decadence, sin and violence. The backdrop here (John Iacovelli) is plushly served by velvet red curtains, and the MC is dressed elegantly in tux, wearing white face makeup to set him apart. All the costumes by Kate Bergh have an appealing European theatricality that enhances the idea of diverging trends. The swiftness of Act II is unusual, and the ending with Bradshaw on the train writing his memoir, as all the looming shadows move forward with intensely sharper and brighter focus is yet another ingenious directorial contribution.
The acting is superb, with O'Hare possibly being the best Sally Bowles I have ever seen. From "Don't Tell Mama" to "Cabaret" she is divinely flirtatious, uncouth and stubbornly unsophisticated that all add up to the definitive tragic heroine. McLean is handsome, vulnerable and earnest as Bradshaw. Bryce Ryness brings every ounce of his talent to the fore, proving him to be a true triple threat. His height and posturing add greatly to the MC's intrigue. Mary GorDon Murray is sensational as Frau Schneider, so deeply atuned to the woman's emotional longings but resigned to pushing them aside. Also of note is Robert Picardo, who brings more energetic vibrancy to Herr Schultz. The entire ensemble is simply outstanding.
This is a Cabaret for the books. Marcia Milgrom Dodge is a director to be reckoned with. Bravo!
Don't miss it through September 25 only!