REVIEW: ‘Cabaret,’ Leave Your Troubles Outside To Enjoy This All-New Production

Cabaret (based on the works of John Van Druten and Christopher Isherwood) tells us the story of an American writer and his fateful trip to Berlin, where his own encounters of love, heartbreak and prejudice became the inspiration for his latest novel.

The 1966 musical was written by Joe Masteroff and feature songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. A film version directed by Bob Fosse and starring Academy Award-winners Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey was released in 1972. The iconic song “Maybe This Time” was first introduced in the movie and later added to the stage production.

In 2014, Roundabout Theatre Company revived the musical, which starred Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams, followed by a national tour with Randy Harrison and Andrea Goss.

But behind one of Broadway’s most titillating musicals is a gripping story more relevant than ever. And for the all-new production now playing at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, director Larry Carpenter took the fundamentals of earlier productions and created something bigger, something better and something darker.

While traveling through Germany, Cliff Bradshaw (Christian Pedersen) certainly got more than he bargained for. The same could be said about cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Zarah Mahler). They meet, fall in love, get pregnant and break-up because Sally is still seduced by her carefree lifestyle.

Mahler has the delicate task of balancing her character’s egocentric behavior with enough kindheartedness and influence to win over the audience. She succeeds making her one of the most likable Sally’s to grace the stage.

Most of the musical takes place inside the Kit Kat Klub. The club’s Emcee (Jeff Skowron) reminds us to “leave your troubles outside…life in here is beautiful.” That message is both literal and metaphorical as widespread pandemonium is brewing outside its front doors.

Skowron, a well-versed character actor is no stranger to stealing the spotlight. However, this time he steps into leading man territory and steals the entire show.

But Skowron and Zahler aren’t the only ones with noteworthy performances. Cabaret also features a sub-plot involving German Fräulein Schneider (Kelly Lester) and German-born Jew Herr Schultz (Jack Laufer). The ill-fated couple are torn apart in fear of Nazi retaliation. Both Lester and Laufer share great chemistry and demonstrate tenderness and depth.

As I mentioned earlier, this production is dark at times. One chilling scene is during the number “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” where German youth are gathered around watching a ventriloquist puppet (if that wasn’t creepy enough) made to resemble Hitler.

If decadence is what you’re seeking, there’s plenty of that too. David Kay Mickelsen’s avant-garde costumes paired corsets, fishnets, heels and plenty of latex together. Set designer John Iacovelli created a lush Art Deco-inspired backdrop and mobile platform that housed the versatile 10-piece orchestra.

And let’s not forget the stunning ensemble cast, many of them familiar faces at La Mirada Theatre. The group will grab your attention, if not by fierceness, then by choreographer Dana Solimando’s seductive dance moves. A few standouts include Nina Schreckengost (Frenchie) and Bruce Merkle (Kit Kat Waiter).

Cabaret is playing at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts now through February 11, 2018. Tickets are available by calling the box office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or Order Online.

Photo courtesy of Jason Niedle

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