BWW Reviews: Rep Opens Season with Sexy and Captivating Production of CABARET

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis kicks off their season with a lively and captivating production of Cabaret, Kander and Ebb's dark and cynical examination of life in Berlin prior to Hitler's ascension. This sleek, sexy, abrasive and poignant musical is solidly performed by both the cast, and the musicians portraying the Kit Kat Club house band. There's a lot of fine theatre taking place in St. Louis at the moment, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't take the time to check out this decadent delight.

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 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 Club, 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.

Nathan Lee Graham is riveting and intense as the androgynous Emcee, guiding the audience through the action beginning with the introductory tune, "Willkommen". Graham is properly outrageous, and "The Money Song", "Two Ladies", "If You Could See Her", and the oft-cut "I Don't Care Much" all showcase fine vocal work on his part. Hunter Ryan Herdlicka is quite good as Cliff. He displays a nice voice, and delivers a compelling performance. Liz Pearce is incredibly engaging as Sally Bowles, and she gives her rendition of "Cabaret" the emotional weight it requires to work. An early number, "Don't Tell Mama", is given a naughty charm, while "Perfectly Marvelous" finds her duet-ting to good effect with Herdlicka.

But, the real focus of the show for me is Mary GorDon Murray as Fraulein Schneider and Michael Marotta as Herr Schultz. It's their story that is truly tragic because politics and hatred destroy their chance at love. Murray is especially strong during "So What?" and "What Would You Do", where she explains the rationale behind her rejection of Schultz's proposal. Marotta is a pitiable figure of a man as the dejected Jewish fruit grocer, Schultz. The wistful tune "Married" provides them with a lovely and hopeful moment to share.

Marcia Milgrom Dodge's direction is sharply executed with focused performances and smooth scene transitions, and her choreography has the cast oozing sexuality. Michael Schweidkardt's expressionistic set fits the era perfectly. John Lasiter's flashy and shadowy lighting scheme works well to enhance the dour mood essential to this show, and Angela Wendt's costumes add a dementedly bawdy touch. Christy Crowl's musical direction is excellent, with the tight ensemble led by conductor/pianist/associate music director Henry Palkes skillfully maneuvering their way through Kander and Ebb's catchy score. The band consists of: Palkes, Erin Elstsner(percussion), Ann Muehlmann (bass), Elsie Parker (woodwinds), Marquita Reef (trombone), and Mary Weber (trumpet).

The Rep's current production of Cabaret is an enticing, artistic triumph. It continues at the Loretto-Hilton through October 6, 2013 and should not be missed.

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