REVIEW: "Cabaret"— Academy for the Performing Arts, HBHS

Updated: Jan 11

"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