Music by: John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff
At: Paramount Theatre, Aurora. 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora. Tickets: $36-64. Runs through: March 18
Cabaret is always a difficult show both to produce and to watch. The 1966 musical features several wonderfully comic numbers, but ultimately its message is one of foreboding: a difficult balancing act to handle well. The new production at Aurora's Paramount Theatre, however, is able to hold onto the delicate tension between comedy and pathos brilliantly.
Set in 1931 Berlin, Cabaret takes place mostly in two locations: a run-down boarding house owned by Fraulein Schneider ( Hollis Resnik ) and the Kit Cat Club, where the MC ( Joseph Anthony Byrd ) entices patrons with decadent performances and scantily dressed girls ( and boys ). The club's headliner, Sally Bowles ( Kelly Felthouse ), is all excitement and enthusiasm for the party atmosphere of both the club and Berlin but possesses no real-world awareness.
Enter a young American would-be novelist, Clifford Bradshaw ( Garrett Lutz ). Clifford's own naÃ®vete is challenged by the debauchery of Germany at this time, and its rising fascism. Herr Schultz ( Ron E. Rains ), a Jewish beau of Fraulein Schneider, becomes a victim of the Nazi prejudice against his religion. Though he doesn't believe it will last, we know that his guilelessness will be his doom, and the swastika looms large everywhere. When Clifford begins to understand all of this, its effect on the club and his blooming relationship with Sally dominates play's second act.
Director Sam Mendes does a marvelous job of juggling all of the disparate pieces along with choreographer and co-director Rob Marshall. The bawdy dance numbers in the Kit Cat Club are sensual, funny and alive with the wanton spirit of an era when nothing was out of bounds. The sweet, tender moments ( "Pineapple," a love song between Schultz and Schneider, for example, or "Maybe This Time," Sally's plaintive hope that she may somehow have lucked onto the right guy ) are handled with sensitivity. ( Yael Lubetzky's lighting on the latter is one of the finest moments of the night. ) Scott Davis's set is perfect from the worn curtain at the start to the interior degeneracy of the club itself to the simple bed-and-doors sets for the boarding house. Adam Rosenthal's sound work is outstanding, and the costumes by Mieka van der Ploeg are spot-on.
Cabaret is a long shownearly three hours, including its intermissionbut this production is not one to be missed. It's a timely reminder of how easily everything can fall apart, and a sensational version of a complicated musical.