Chicago Theatre Review
Everybody Loves a Winner
Cabaret – Brightside Theatre
Despite a profusion of “Cabaret” productions within the past year, including yet one more Broadway revival, a trip to downtown Naperville will reward adventurous audiences with one of the finest local stagings around. An impressive finale to this young company’s 3rd season, one can only imagine the excellence that awaits in the coming years. Artistic Director Jeffrey Cass once again takes the reins for this show. The result is an almost flawless presentation of Kander & Ebb’s Tony Award-winning musical.
In 1966 audiences were first introduced to this musicalized adaptation of John Van Druten’s play, “I Am a Camera,” itself based on Christopher Isherwood’s short novel, Goodbye to Berlin. The musical was revived in a very conventional 1987 production; but in 1998, it was once again revived on Broadway, this time in a controversial, gritty revision that was based upon Sam Mendes’ West End production.That revival garnered even more awards for the musical and is currently being revived yet again at New York‘s Studio 54.
It’s this darker 1998 version that BrightSide Theatre is presenting, and while it doesn’t offer big name stars the production does offer much of the same shocking material and daring eroticism. While the 1972 Oscar-winning film version of the musical focused on Sally Bowles (played by Liza Minnelli), a second-rate headliner of Berlin’s tawdry Kit Kat Klub, director Jeffrey Cass returns the focus to Isherwood’s original intent. His production centers on Clifford Bradshaw, a young American author searching for inspiration in pre-WWII Germany, as seen through the eyes of the decadent, sexually promiscuous Emcee. As he becomes involved in the lives of new friends, such as Sally, his landlady Fraulein Schneider and her Jewish gentleman friend Herr Schultz, the Nazi Party can be seen growing in strength. Cliff soon realizes that the world they knew is rapidly crumbling around them and his attempt to save his friends will be ineffectual.
Bright musical numbers are juxtaposed between darker, more dramatic scenes. The Emcee, played with devilish glee and sinister kinkiness by David Geinosky, at first welcomes the audience (“Willkommen”) and promises an evening ahead of debauchery. Young Mr. Geinosky impresses with each musical number, particularly the melancholy “I Don’t Care Much.” He titillates in the delightfully naughty “Two Ladies” and kicks up a storm at the opening of Act II.
Jillian Weingart as Sally Bowles absolutely nails every musical number. Whether girlishly teasing (along with her talented Cabaret girls and boys) in “Don’t Tell Mama,” writhing and slinking through a seductive “Mein Herr,” baring her soul with a heartfelt “Maybe This Time” or exorcising personal demons through the bitterly ironic title song, Ms. Weingart is the real deal and is alone worth the price of admission.
However, she’s not the only songbird in this cast of talented triple threats. Jennifer Bartolo, possessing a voice that rivals any American Idol winner, doubles as lady-of-the-evening Fraulein Kost, Kit Kat chorine Fritzie and the Emcee’s simian sweetheart in “If You Could See Her.” As Clifford Bradshaw, Jonas Davidow unfortunately only gets to demonstrate his fine musicality in one number, but he’s got a terrific voice. One hopes to see more of this young musical actor in the future. He skillfully portrays the struggling writer’s journey from innocent, sexually confused young artist to an adult, harshly awakened by reality.
But the crown jewel of this cast is Patricia Deckert, returning to the stage after several years and bewitching audiences as German landlady and survivor, Fraulein Schneider. The actress dazzles with a vocal strength, range and expertise that’s the obvious result of years of study. The sweet gentility that Ms. Deckert conveys in the Fraulein masks her character’s strength and determination to persevere, no matter the odds. In her scenes with Herr Schultz (affably played by Jim Heatherly) the actress is charmingly coy and girl-like, but she boldly defends the decisions she’s been forced to make in her dramatic, “What Would You Do?” Ms. Deckert, is quite simply, breathtaking in this role.
Jeffrey Cass, with his usual attention to detail and historic accuracy, has transformed the 3/4-thrust stage into an intimate production that breathes life into Christopher Isherwood’s memorable characters and brings the horror of the Nazi rise to power into the playgoer’s lap. Supported by Jarrod Bainter’s flexible scenery and moody lighting design and Katie Gibson’s palette of sound, Cass’ production immerses the audience in a world in flux, depicting one of history’s darkest hours. With top-notch actors, accomplished singers backed by Oliver R. Townsend’s outstanding eight-member band and clever, sassy choreography by Jeni Donahue, the curtain falls on BrightSide Theatre’s third season leaving thrilled audiences excitedly anticipating next year.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 13-29 by BrightSide Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth Ave., Naperville, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 630-637-7469 or by going to www.brightsidetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.