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Theater Review: “Cabaret"

“Cabaret” plays through April 29, 2019 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.
Photo credit:
Coronado Playhouse

“Cabaret.” The title alone sounds like a party, and Coronado Playhouse’s configuration with cabaret seating enforces that impression. So does the pre-show action, with scantily-clad dancers roaming the house.

Hunter Brown’s excellent Emcee (Hunter Brown), promises us that everything here is beautiful and we are not to worry about anything.

But things aren’t always what they seem, and Kander and Ebb’s classic musical isn’t about beautiful but frivolous people drinking too much and doing silly dances in a bar. It’s about the end of a world.

It’s 1931, and young American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Gabriel Macedo) is on the train to Berlin, looking for inspiration for a story or novel. Here he meets Berliner Ernst Ludwig (Andrew Shane Walters), who strikes up a conversation and recommends a “cheap boarding house” where Cliff can stay. Ludwig also recommends an evening at the seedy Kit Kat Klub for amusement, and will later ask Cliff to provide courier service to Paris – for a substantial stipend.

At the boarding house, Cliff meets owner Fräulein Schneider, whose age and evident exhaustion contrast wildly with Cliff’s fresh-faced youthful enthusiasm.

Her claim to run a quiet house is belied by her other guest, the free-wheeling Fräulein Kost (DeAnna Cali), who entertains an endless parade of sailors.

Sue Boland’s excellent Schneider negotiates the price of Cliff’s room, giving in when he pleads poverty, singing the anthem of one who has learned that what you want and what you get are often only nodding acquaintances at best. As she puts it, “So what? Who cares?”

Fräulein Schneider, like most Berliners, seems to be too busy just trying to survive to worry about the increasing numbers of jackbooted Nazis who roam the streets. It’s easier just to eat, drink and “take what you get.”

At the Kit Kat Klub, debauchery rules. Cliff’s life will change forever when he meets the club’s chanteuse, British expat Sally Bowles (Sarah Alida LeClair). Pretty and morally ambiguous, she will become both lover and roommate for the American newcomer.

Life didn’t quite turn out as most Berliners hoped, as this show (based on John Van Druten’s play “I Am a Camera” and Christopher Isherwood’s novel “Goodbye to Berlin”) demonstrates. Dichotomies and extremes, longing and disappointment, fear and hate led to something quite other.

Director Julia Cuppy has mounted an uneven production. Boland is consistently moving as the exhausted Fräulein Schneider and is nicely complemented by John Garcia, as Herr Schmidt, a Jewish fruit seller with whom she finds unexpected romance. Those two provide the emotional heart of the show.

LeClair and Macedo are not a good match as Sally and Cliff (her obvious experience advantage eclipses him), but you still can’t help pulling for both of their characters.

Walters is excellent as the “fixer” Ludwig, whose fixing will eventually include the Final Solution.

The dance corps works hard but could use better choreography.

Lisa Burgess’ costumes appropriately shift with the plot from the glittery barely-there to funereal black.

Music director Ian Brandon’s five-member band does the score proud, working from a second-level nightclub set.

The Playhouse has recently upped its game with some fine musical shows.

This “Cabaret” isn’t quite in that league, but the show is important to see as social commentary.

Broadway producer Hal Prince once described “Cabaret” this way: “It isn’t about Germany, it’s about us. It’s about the power you have if you’re part of a mob that hates anything.”

The details

“Cabaret” plays through April 29, 2019 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 435-4856 or www.coronadoplayhouse.com