Cabaret | Stages St. Louis

The list of terrific performances is extensive as everyone pulled together to make this a fabulous ensemble production.

 

Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by Michael Hamilton
Through July 2, 2006

Stages St. Louis kicks off their 20th season with the legendary Kander & Ebb musical, Cabaret. The story, set in Berlin from 1929-1930, focuses on the patrons and employees of the infamous Kit Kat Klub where anything goes and fantasies come to life. Sally Bowles (Jayne Paterson) is the premier torch singer in the club. She manages to intertwine her life with Clifford Bradshaw (David Schmittou), a fresh-faced American novelist who came to Berlin to expand his writing horizons. Along the way, Bradshaw befriends a German patriot, Ernst Ludwig (Jeffrey C. Wolf), rents a room from Fraulein Schneider (Zoe Vonder Haar), and unbeknown to him, ends up running money laundering schemes for the Nazis. As things heat up both personally and politically, Bradshaw is caught up in a maelstrom of events that-thanks to Mr. Hitler-not only rip apart a continent, but two lovers as well.

The story is accompanied by a stellar musical score by the Broadway legends, Kander and Ebb. The songs in Cabaret run the gamut from fun and flirty ("Two Ladies," "The Money Song," and "If You Could See Her") to serious and sensual ("Maybe This Time" and "I Don't Care Much," just to name a few).

Fortunately for director Michael Hamilton-that's Kevin Kline award winner, Michael Hamilton, to you and me-the cast he and his crew assembled were nothing short of amazing.

David Elder starred in the show as the Master of Ceremonies, the man who presides over the Kit Kat Klub. Elder's sensuality and sensational vocal ability were in abundance as he slinked around the stage serving as informal narrator of the show. I particularly enjoyed Elder's abilities to be sexy while not being trampy, coming off suave without being obnoxious, and all the while allowing the other characters to share the spotlight.

Nearly stealing Elder's spotlight every time she hit the stage was Paterson as Sally Bowles. Paterson positively tore into the role of Bowles with amazing energy and swagger.  Yes Paterson can dance and yes she can act. But what really made me get on board with her was when she completely commanded the stage and created such an intense moment during one of the show's biggest numbers, "Maybe This Time," quickly followed up with yet another intense performance of "Cabaret." I was mesmerized by Paterson's commitment to character as she flung herself to the stage, capping off a top-notch performance.

The list of terrific performances is extensive as everyone pulled together to make this a fabulous ensemble production. Vonder Haar-yes, the Kevin Kline Award winning Zoe Vonder Haar-was outstanding as Fraulein Schneider, delivering her usual terrific vocal performance. Kari Ely was unforgettable as "lady of the night," Fraulein Kost, and even Ben Nordstrom-yes, the Kevin Kline Award winning Ben Nordstrom-was hilarious in his myriad roles including a dancing gorilla. Even the backup dancers and smaller roles (note I didn't say smaller actors, but roles) were outstanding and helped create the illusion of a very sexy and swinging Berlin.

All of the other elements of the production were top notch as well. In a word, the sets were breathtaking. Mark Halpin did an amazing job giving each of his sets the attention to detail they deserved. Kudos also goes to Lou Bird for his wonderful costume creations. He managed to make the Kit Kat Girls look sexy without looking trashy, and draped Sally Bowles in elegance and style.

One final, technical pat on the back must go to choreographer Kelli Barclay. Barclay's complicated but graceful dance movements gave the audience some visual eye-candy as the talented dancers brought her movements to life.

Normally, when I write down my thoughts at a production, I have two columns, a "Pro" side and a "Negative" side. Once this production was over, I glanced down at my columns and noticed a theatrical first. I had no negative comments written down. Scratching my head, I thought about the performance from beginning to end, surely I had made a mistake, surely there were some bad notes hit or dancers out of step. But there were no events I could think of, sans some random microphone static during one song. Everything in this production worked, and worked well. My only fear is that Stages set the bar so high on their opening production that their other shows (Grease, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and Meet Me in St. Louis) all have their work cut out to keep the theater excellence that Cabaret achieved.

I find it fitting to close this review with some lines Sally Bowles sings during the shows title musical number. "What good is sitting alone in your room/Come hear the music play/Life is a Cabaret, old chum/Come to the Cabaret." And that is exactly what I am suggesting you do: Go see Cabaret. This is a must see for any musical theater lover.

Stages St. Louis presents Joe Masteroff, John Kander, and Fred Ebb's Caberet through July 2 at Robert G. Reim Theatre (Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 S. Geyer Rd.). Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 4 &8 p.m. Sat., and 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $45 ($42 for seniors). Junior patrons (5-18) may attend any matinee or Sunday evening performance for $22. Seniors receive a special discount rate of $28 at all matinees and on Sunday evenings. High school and college students (25 and under with valid ID) as well as seniors may attend for $15 (tickets are sold day of the performance only). Reservations can be made calling 314-821-2407.

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