Review: CABARET at Center Rep

What did our critic think of CABARET at Center Rep?

By: May. 29, 2024
Review: CABARET at Center Rep
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Center Repertory Company closes its 2023-24 season with a stunning production of the Tony Award-winning Kander and Ebb masterpiece Cabaret. Artistic Producer Markus Potter helms the finely tuned production with a stellar ensemble, marvelous musical direction and a supporting technical crew that confirms Center Rep as a powerhouse Bay Area theatre troupe.

Review: CABARET at Center Rep
Cliff (Jacob Henrie-Naffaa) is enchanted by Sally (Monique Hafen Adams) in Center Repertory Company's "Cabaret," performing May 26 - June 23 at Lesher Center for the Arts.

Cabaret’s popularity is undeniable. Premiering on Broadway in 1966, the play won 12 Tony Awards and is currently in revival. The 1972 movie won 8 Oscars including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli and Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey. For my money, Kandor and Ebb’s score is one of the most succinct – marrying the expositional dialogue with the perfect songs. Any production hinges on a number of components: how the leads interpret both Sally Bowles and the emcee, how to incorporate the increasing Nazi menace, and the overall look of show. Here, Center Rep succeeds on all levels.

Review: CABARET at Center Rep
Sally (Monique Hafen Adams) shines in a solo at the Kit Kat Club.

Sally Bowles, the brassy, carefree club singer, is brilliantly realized by Bay Area icon Monique Hafen Adams. Her Sally doesn’t go for easy shock value with her steamy sex life and boozy partying. Adams plays her subtly, a detached nihilist sleepwalking through life blissfully unaware of her effects on people. Rotimi Agbabiaka, a gifted baritone, oversees the events onstage as the bawdy emcee, more gay than androgynous, wonderfully adorned in Becky Bodurtha’s flamboyant costumes.

Review: CABARET at Center Rep
Fräulein Schneider (Kelly Ground) and Herr Schultz (Richard Farrell) embrace in Center Repertory Company's "Cabaret," performing May 26 - June 23 at Lesher Center for the Arts.

The show looks fabulous with its moody lighting by Wen-Ling Liao, Bordurtha’s costuming and David Goldstein’s multi-leveled, mirror columned set. Director Potter enlists New York based choreographer Jessica Chen who maneuvers the ensemble in their highly evocative and sensuous numbers. Famous numbers like “Mein Herr” and “Money Makes the World Go Around” are a joy. Adams gives yet another exhilarating vocal performance on the heartbreakingly optimistic “Maybe This Time,” "Don't Tell Mama", and “Cabaret.” Ground shines on “So What” and Agbabiaka almost steals the show on “Two Ladies” and “Money.”

Review: CABARET at Center Rep
Ernst Ludwig (center- Charlie Levy) and Fräulein Kost (center - Michelle Drexler) remark on Berlin's future as attendees (l to r: Landan Berlof, Elizabeth Cowperthwaite, Ann Warque, Adria Swan, Dedrick Weathersby) watch in Center Repertory Company's "Cabaret," performing May 26 - June 23 at Lesher Center for the Arts.

A secondary plot follows the doomed love story of Fräulein Schneider, a landlord and Herr Schulz, a Jewish fruit vendor excellently played by Kelly Ground and Richard Farrell. Jacob Henrie-Naffaa plays Cliff Bradshaw, an American writer who becomes emotionally entangled with Sally. Set in Weimar Germany circa 1929, Potter carefully balances the hedonism of the Kit Kat Club with the rising influence of the Nazis. A brick thrown through Herr Schulz’s window is dismissed as childish mischief, the antisemitic number "If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song)", and a hauntingly beautiful unfurling of a stage covering German flag created by costumer Bodurtha suggest the menace to come in the shifting political landscape.

Review: CABARET at Center Rep
Kit Kat Club performers (l to r: Elizabeth Curtis, Rotimi Agbabiaka, and Landan Berlof) allure in Center Repertory Company's "Cabaret," performing May 26 - June 23 at Lesher Center for the Arts.

Both love stories are doomed: Fraulein Schneider is terrified of the consequences of marrying a Jew, while Sally, who is initially optimistic about a new life with Bradshaw, cannot change her selfish nature. Cabaret is a dark piece that illustrates the fragility of liberty in the face of authoritarianism, a lesson we must constantly be diligent even today.

Cabaret continues through June 23rd. Tickets available at  lesherartscenter.org or call the box office at 925-943-7469.

Photo credit: Kevin Berne




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