The Downtown Cabaret Theatre is now offering a musical seemingly born to play in that venerable Bridgeport venue. It’s a very fine revival of Kander and Ebb’s landmark musical, “Cabaret”. Any production of this powerful classic lives in the significant shadow of Bob Fosse’s Oscar-winning film and recent Broadway revivals where the brilliant Alan Cumming put his distinctive stamp on the key role of the Emcee. At the Downtown Cabaret, they deliver the goods.
With a book by Joe Masteroff based on the play by John Van Druten and the stories of Christopher Isherwood, “Cabaret” is set in 1929 Berlin at the notorious Kit Kat Klub where the Emcee (a game and ready Sean Davis) runs the show featuring lead performer Sally Bowles (Kelsey Senteio). The musical is seen through the eyes of innocent American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Jojo DeVellis) who, though bisexual, embarks on a doomed affair with Sally as he attempts to write his novel. He has rented a room from Fraulein Schneider (Priscilla Squiers, wonderful) who is being romanced by Jewish grocer Herr Schultz (Chris Hetherington).
Unlike Goodspeed Opera House’s rather sunny rendition of this very dark musical last season, director Bradford Blake with welcome brisk pacing has stripped away any artifice and has not shied away from the more disturbing elements in Masteroff’s book. I did admire David McQuillen Robertson’s spare scenic design but since the club is the key metaphor for this time in history, a little more representation of that world would be helpful especially for patrons unfamiliar with the show. Even a simple move like lowering the Kit Kat Klub sign (currently lost in the rafters above the band) would help.
This “Cabaret” is in very good hands with its leads, however, since both Davis and Senteio nail their performances with all-in acting and powerhouse vocals. Senteio is quietly vulnerable singing the torchy “Maybe this Time” while volcanic for “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Mein Herr”. These knock-out numbers are performed mostly utilizing chairs with a great backup of chorus girls (the fiery choreography is by Olivia Rivera). Davis, no doubt inspired by the Cumming performance, makes the Emcee his delicious own; seedy and glamorous while oozing sexual ambivalence in both the opening number, “Willkommen” as well as the raunchy “Two Ladies”. Squiers is the heart of the musical with her subtle and moving performance as landlady Fraulein Schneider. A role that was greatly reduced in Fosse’s 1972 film, the stage version allows Schneider’s heartbreaking story full voice especially late in the show with “What Would You Do?, sung to the zenith by Squiers.
I wish Blake made the potent “If You Could See Her” less busy with his costumed character distracting from Davis’ fine singing and the act one curtain and finale both seem rushed here while more time would have let the themes resonate and disturb. Still, with a terrific live band under the ace direction of Mark Ceppetelli, and those powerful lead performances, this “Cabaret” is well worth seeing. It is hard to believe it opened on Broadway in 1966 and is still, sadly, as timely as ever.
“Cabaret” continues at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, 263 Golden Hill Street in Bridgeport through May 21. For further information, call the box office at: 203.576.1636 or visit: www.dtcab.com.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.