THEATER | An effectively campy, creepy "Cabaret" from Frank Theatre

Photo by Tony Nelson, courtesy Frank Theatre

A seductive evening at the Kit Kat Club is provided by Frank Theatre's production of Cabaret. I have seen Cabaret performed on stage twice before but, despite a slow start, this production is the most compelling of the three. Under Wendy Knox's direction, the performance concentrates on two couples whose romance is intruded upon by the growing Nazi menace. The social pathology of Weimar Germany initially takes on a playful eroticism that turns ominous; portraying the enticing nature of evil.

Written by Joe Masteroff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret originally opened on Broadway in 1966. Since then it has been brought back twice in two Broadway revivals and made into a movie by Bob Fosse staring Liza Minnelli. For those unfamiliar with the musical, the story centers on Cliff Bradshaw. Cliff, an American, is a would-be writer who goes to Berlin during the 1930s to seek inspiration for his writing. On the way there he is befriended by a disingenuous German named Ernst Ludwig and rents a room from an older woman named Fraulein Schneider. On his first night, he meets a young English woman named Sally Bowles, a performer at the seedy Kit Kat Club. Another boarder at the rooming house is Herr Schultz, an elderly Jewish fruit vendor. When Sally's relationship with the Kit Kat Club owner ends, she is both jobless and homeless. Her solution is to persuade Cliff to let her share his room. A romance ensues between her and Cliff, as well as one between Schneider and Schultz.

cabaret, presented at the minnesota centennial showboat through march 27. for tickets ($25) and information, see franktheatre.org.

The specter of Nazism pervades the show in the guise of the Kit Kat Club and its Master of Ceremonies. Seduced by the hedonism and loose sexuality found at the club, Cliff and Sally are oblivious to the growing control of the Nazis. Living a more proper life, Schneider and Schultz also initially discount and ignore the growing influence of the Nazis. In the end, the overshadowing evil dooms both couples.

The opening "Willkommen" number is surprisingly low-energy, but the pace picks up when Melissa Hart makes her debut as Frau Schneider. Hart played the role of Sally Bowles during the original Cabaret run on Broadway. Hart does a wonderful job as the lonely Schneider. The scenes with her and Patrick Bailey (Herr Schmitt) are adorable. I have never much cared for the "It Couldn't Please Me More" tune in the show, but their campy rendition is delightful.

Sara Richardson plays the enigmatic Kit Kat Club headliner Sally with a vulnerability that shows how her refusal to see the evil around her is the ultimate tragedy. Once the show warms up, the club ensemble keeps the show moving effortlessly from scene to scene. Notable performances are provided by other cast members including Max Wojtanowicz as Cliff, Leif Jurgensen as Ludwig, and Barbara Meyer as the boarding house prostitute. Bradley Greenwald, who opens and closes the show as the Master of Ceremonies, starts sluggish but he eventually won me over with his charming grins.

The Centennial Showboat provides an appropriate vaudeville atmosphere for the show's decadent cabaret style. The sparse set design by Joseph Stanley works well as scenes shift between the boarding house and the Kit Kat Club. Whether you have never seen Cabaret or have seen it umpteen times, Frank Theatre's production merits your attention.

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    dprw's picture
    Bev Wolfe

    Bev Wolfe is a local attorney and an avid theatergoer.

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    Frank Theatre

    Wendy Knox is a humanitarian visionary. We are fortunate to be breathing the same air!