Thursday, October 16, 2014

'Cabaret' entertains – and gets under your skin

Martha Wasser, center, as Sally Bowles, dances with the girls of the Kit Kat Club in EPAC's "Cabaret," now through Nov. 1 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

If you think you know the “Cabaret” story from watching the 1972 Liza Minnelli / Joel Grey movie, think again.

The stage musical, which opens tonight and runs through Nov. 1 at EPAC, came first (opening on Broadway in 1966). And it remains a deeper exploration than the film of both the 1930s decadence of Berlin and the menace bubbling just under the surface as the Nazis began to assert their authority during their rise to power.

I watched the last rehearsal before “Cabaret’s” preview at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre earlier this week, and found it to be a really well-cast show, firing on all cylinders!

As the show opens, the writer character Cliff Bradshaw (played by Sean Deffley) tells us of his eye-opening experience in Berlin: “It was the end of the world … and I was dancing with Sally Bowles, and we were both fast asleep.” It’s a provocative invitation for us, as audience members, to lean forward in our seats, to watch Cliff’s story unfold, and learn why he described his Berlin sojourn in those terms.

In addition to Cliff, we meet the one-and-only Sally Bowles, an English girl who dreamed she’d be fascinating, and woke up to realize she’d made herself fascinating – creating a persona right at home on the Kit Kat Club stage. Sally’s not really supposed to be all that talented, but we can suspend disbelief and forgive EPAC’s Martha Wasser for being VERY talented, as she sings the heck out of Sally’s familiar songs!

We meet the Emcee of the seedy, decadent Kit Kat Club. As played by Nick Smith, he’s a sly, androgynous version of the Shakespearean fool – the guy who uses art, wit and performance to help us understand the truth about what’s going on in frightening outside world.

There’s Cliff’s friend, Ernst, portrayed by Preston Schreffler, whose persona, and politics, aren’t what they initially seem. And there’s the emotion-stirring relationship between Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider (Gene Ellis and Tricia Corcoran) – struggling to embrace love in middle age, amid the menacing change that’s coming to Germany.

Elements of the story alternate with wild numbers beneath the theatrical lighting of the Kit Kat Club; the performances enhance the creepiness of what’s happening to German society, and how it’s affecting all the characters’ lives. The song-and-dance numbers will delight you; the romances in the show will engage you; and the realization of what lies beyond the walls of the Kit Kat Club will make your skin crawl.

You don’t want to miss this show!

One word of caution: This show is definitely not for kids.  EPAC recommends it for adult audiences. The musical deals with adult issues and situations, and performances in the Kit Kat Club are sexually suggestive. You’ll see plenty of very flexible ladies and gents in their underwear – it’s a seedy club in decadent Berlin, after all!

Kudos, in advance, to the cast, crew and creative team … and thanks to the sponsors who are helping EPAC provide “theater that matters” in our community:

12:34 MicroTechnologies (show sponsor)
Blue RidgeCommunications (season media sponsor)
Hill Top Inn (individual show sponsor)
Lily’s on Main (opening night party sponsor).

Thanks for your support!

For tickets to “Cabaret,” call (717) 733-7966, or visit our website to order online. 

-- Merv Wright