EMAV Review: It’s Cabaret, old chum

★★★☆☆ - Satisfying

Most of the general public going to “Cabaret” at Majestic Repertory Theatre will expect a version of the 1972 film starring Liza Minelli. The stage version with the same music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and book by Joe Masteroff, based on John Van Druten's 1951 play “I Am a Camera,” which itself was based on a short story by Christopher Isherwood titled “Goodbye to Berlin,” is mighty different. Over the years stage revivals cut and reinstated songs, added and cut songs from the film. The stage version, despite being a musical is darker, more edgy than the film, clinging more to the underbelly of the Nazi takeover.

Under the direction of Troy Heard it doesn’t quite get there. While the venue is beautifully set for an immersive experience (thanks to The Design Ninjas), and the space is well used, the free-for-all eroticism turned dark political turmoil is somehow lacking. Pacing is slow, some of the songs are sung too prettily, and the tension doesn’t rise throughout the 2-1/2-hour show.

Heard took a risk in casting Anita Bean as the Emcee. It’s a ballsy move. And it could’ve worked to advantage if they’d gone whole hog. But Bean plays it as male, singing in lower chest registers and, particularly with the song “Two Ladies,” it loses the impact it could’ve had – despite that the two ladies are men in drag.

Bean does bring the right amount of bravado and brassiness to every scene. But she a problem with the dialect that whips from German-tinged to French, to Romanian, to American. “And” is “und” with all the other characters, but not Bean. She’s not consistent with the “th” sounds either; sometimes it’s “zay,” sometimes “they.” Her “w” slips from “ven” to “when.”

The two unfortunate star-crossed lovers, played by Axel Knight (Clifford Bradshaw) and Charlie Starling (Sally Bowles), are, for the most part, flat and one-dimensional. There’s no emotional depth. Transitions are missing. A connection is missing, the chemistry isn’t there. When Clifford gets badly beaten by refusing to cooperate with Ernst Ludwig (played with superb subtlety by Andrew Young), in the next scene Knight is bouncing around the stage with nary a wince. The voices are there, though. Knight has a pleasing tenor, and Starling can belt out numbers with the best of them.

Gail Romero (Frauline Schnieder) and E. Wayne Worley (Herr Schultz) work really well together. The comedic timing is there, and we can see the relationship unfold; the reticence and regret in Romero’s performance when she breaks off the relationship with Schultz; and Worley’s sad but pragmatic response is perfectly brought to bear.

The Kit Kat Boys and Girls are great, every single one of them. When Katie Marie Jones breaks from the pack to deliver a spine-tingling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” you know she means it. It’s a highlight of the evening.

Kimberly Amblad brought touches of Fosse into the choreography yet made it her own, and Kathy Wusnack’s costuming is wonderful.

The play is relevant given the current rise of certain elements in the country. Want to see how unchecked power gains ground? Go to “Cabaret,” old chum.

What: Cabaret

When: Thursday - Saturday 8pm; Sundays 5pm through August 26

Tickets: $15 - $28 (www.majesticrepertory.com)

Producer: Majestic Repertory Theatre; Director: Troy Heard; Musical Director: Andrew Tyler; Choreography: Kimberly Amblad; Lighting Design: Marcus Randolph; Scenic Design: The Design Ninjas; Costume Design: Kathy Wusnack; Sound Design: Andrew Young; Production Manager: Coral Benedetti; Stage Manager: Josh O’Brien

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