"Right this way, your table's waiting..."
Fifty-five years ago, the musical “Cabaret” took Broadway by storm, winning eight Tony Awards as well as being turned into an Oscar winning film. Bookwriter Joe Masteroff, composer John Kander, and lyricist Fred Ebb based the show on both Christopher Isherwood's 1939 novel "Goodbye to Berlin," an autobiography of his time while living in Berlin around 1930, and John Van Druten's 1951 theatrical adaptation of the novel, “I Am a Camera.”
In the late 1990s, Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall took this classic show, rethought it and turned it into a raw, gritty explosion, full of atmospheric elements, a scantily clad cast, and sensational images that ratcheted up the shock factor of the plight of thousands of Berlin’s citizens, as the Third Reich firmly tightened its grip on Germany.
“Cabaret” has always presented a rather unique set of theatrical challenges, walking a fine line between those big, sassy musical numbers, a cheeky, underworld vibe and the story’s ultimately harrowing conclusion. But now, the Academy for the Performing Arts at Huntington Beach High School recreates this thrilling musical production, masterfully and intimately performed in the APA Studio Theater through January 16th.
“Cabaret” is directed and musically directed by Tim Nelson, now in his 25th year at the academy. Bursting with a bevy of Broadway’s greatest hits, this visceral tale of a love/war struggle to survive simultaneously disarms and delights the viewer.
Set in 1931 during the fever pitch of Nazism in Germany's capital city, "Cabaret" plays out against scenes set inside the seedy Berlin nightclub called the Kit Kat Klub, with a mischievous Emcee overseeing the wanton needs of its carefree customers while Hitler's rise to power is happening just outside its doors.
Stepping into the Emcee's suspenders, Nick Daniel sardonically and fearlessly presides over the show and has a genuinely unsettling stage presence with his slicked-down hair, lustful eyes and predatory stillness. Beaming with chilling charisma, the sly Mr. Daniel conjures up an androgynous miscreant whose smile hides something much darker and grimmer. To his credit, Mr. Daniel brims over with impish energy, throwing himself physically, even maniacally, into the role, and there is a potent mixture of both malignity and glee in his performance as he pulls you in like a moth to a flame.
“Leave your troubles outside,” the Emcee coos. “Life is disappointing? Forget it!”
As you would expect, he sings extremely well too, especially in the initially beautiful “Willkommen,” which becomes increasingly sinister as he manipulates the Kit Kat ensemble as if they were puppets on strings, dancing to his tune. Mr. Daniel’s Act II delivery of the ballad, "I Don't Care Much," is a stunner, full of emotion and profound sadness, but it's his final scene in the show with the company that packs the biggest wallop.
Living dangerously isn’t the intention of Clifford Bradshaw (Gavin Yauchzee) when he arrives in Berlin with an unfinished novel and no means of support. Tall, handsome and sincere, Mr. Yauchzee’s portrayal gives the starving artist a good shot of can-do American spirit.
And thanks to a chance encounter on a train with Ernst Ludwig (the well-cast Seth Christ), a German businessman whose business happens to be smuggling luxury goods from Paris, he soon has an affordable room, some students to tutor in English and an introduction to Berlin’s dissolute nightlife scene. Mr. Yauchzee makes Cliff's journey compelling, maturing from a soft-spoken traveler captivated by all Berlin has to offer, to a man awakened to the horrors to come and eventually disgusted with his own complicity.
The desperate and recently homeless English Kit Kat Klub headliner Sally Bowles (Hannah Robert) convinces Cliff to let her move in with him, even though they have just met, and they set about forming an interesting living relationship. We can definitely see why she is both a distraction and an inspiration to Cliff. Her sweetness flutters like a lacy robe over naked fear, panicked that if she stops and thinks for a moment she’ll crumble.
Ms. Robert proves to be a powerful, empathetic performer, and effectively gets across Sally's self-obsessed, calculating, yet excitable, nature (“Don’t Tell Mama”). And even racier than this teaser is her encore, “Mein Herr,” which is performed with much more artistry than you’d expect, considering the song, but still projects the wide-eyed innocence of an English schoolgirl.
Left alone on stage to sing the title song, "Cabaret," we notice the first real crack in Sally's facade, almost breaking down during the number. Her delivery, however, is as show-stopping of an eleven o’clock number as “Rose’s Turn” in “Gypsy." Belting her final gut-wrenching lyrics with defiance, she finally realizes the cabaret is the only life for her, and where she really belongs.
In a subplot, Cliff's sweet natured landlady, the Fräulein Schneider (Payton Moore), forms a doomed romance of her own with the adorably charming Semitic fruit seller Herr Schultz (Dave Elliott). Outside the Kit Kat Klub, the songs drop their sharply satiric edge in that most tender of love songs, “It Couldn’t Please Me More,” a duet, where a fresh pineapple becomes the token of their love. But, always a practical woman, Fräulein Schneider’s pain and despair comes out consummately with Ms. Moore’s impassioned delivery of “What Would You Do?” Smitten with her lodger’s kindness, she can find no place for a marriage like theirs in the soon-to-be Nazi Germany.
In like manner, Dave Elliott is full of enticement as the endearing, older Jewish man, believing he'll be fine with everything that is going on just because he is German, even as the world is about to come crashing down in ways no one could possibly imagine.
And crash it does. The unexpected ending is both suspenseful and cliff-hanging, and one leaves this inventive production with a shiver of deep unease, reminding us how quickly things can change while we look the other way.
The Creative Team: Director and Musical Director Tim Nelson; Book by Joe Masteroff, Music and Lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb; Based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood; Choreographer Diane Makas; Additional Choreography by Jennifer Matthews; Assistant to the Choreographer Trevyn; Costumes Designer Carole Zelinger; Props Designer Trish Merrill; Technical Director Josh Behrens; Dance Captain Anabel Irwin.
The Cast: The Emcee is Nick Daniel, alternating with Sean Kato; Sally Bowles is played by Hannah Robert, alternating with Lily Horns; Clifford Bradshaw is Gavin Yauchzee, alternating with Brock Lichthardt; Fraulein Schneider is Payton Moore, alternating with Drew Dela Llana; Herr Schultz is Dave Elliott, alternating with Mikey Smith; Fraulein Kost is Daphne Moyes, alternating with Sarah Hentges; Ernst Ludwig is Seth Christ, alternating with Max Smith; Max is Carter Mullin, alternating with Mason Creyaufmiller.
The Kit Kat Girls are Annike Aquirre, Lindsay Brett, Laurel Brookhyser, Hailey Collins, Sadie Conway, Bailey Curtis, Kelsie Eckert, Liahna Flores, Ella Kerper, Ava Melgoza and Sarah Revtyak, alternating with Sofia Aniceto, Rylee Bakx, Lindsay Brett, Emily Crabb, Catherine Dosier, Anabel Irwin, Carmella Miars, Dylan Sylvestri, Avi Walton and Chloe Yeager; The Kit Kat Boys are Landon Mariano, Nate McDaniel, Brock Lichthardt, Gavin Yauchzee, Mikey Smith, Dave Elliott, Max Smith, Seth Christ, Jackson Hartin and Joseph Cobb; Two Ladies are Lindsay Brett, Sofia Aniceto, Brock Lichthardt, Gavin Yauchzee; Gorilla is Sarah Revtyak alternating with Sofia Aniceto; Telephone Girl is Charity Bielicki, alternating with Tatum Hunter; Deutche Grentzkontrolle is Shane Gorsage, alternating with Canon Clevenger.
Cabaret Ensemble includes Parker Bonner, Evan DiCarlo, Claire Tunstall, Macaila Dorney, Noella Egelsee, Olivia Arens, Tess Walshe, Natalie Bains, Nola Anderson, Tatum Hunter, Shea Humphries, Cassie Dow, Mia Colangelo, Paige Kim, Kelsea Andrews and Natasha Tieman. Preshow Performers are Nola Anderson, Parker Bonner, Laurel Brookhyser, Evan DiCarlo, Lizzy Delfino, Macaila Dorney, Cassie Dow, Kelsea Eckert, Noella Egelsee, Abby Elliott, Tatum Hunter, Chloe Hughes, Shea Humphries, Kamryn Kunody, Carmella Miars, Katelyn Nunley, Ren Pratt, Sophia Reyes, Sienna Schoales, Dylan Sylvestri, Natasha Tieman and Claire Tunstall.
“Cabaret,” performing January 7th through 16th at Academy for the Performing Arts, Huntington Beach HS. Tickets are $30 General, $45 VIP. For tickets and further information, please visit: https://www.hbapa.org/see
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Photography by Nancy Orphal Hickey