A New Interpretation Of “Cabaret” Opens The Rep Season

Liz Pearce as Sally and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Cliff in "Cabaret" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Liz Pearce as Sally and Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Cliff in “Cabaret” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

No musical has undergone more incarnations than “Cabaret” and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis has opened their new season with yet another. Using music from the original (1966), the film (1972) and the 1993 London re-do with Alan Cumming plus a combination of the various story lines from those productions, it offers a solid, if somewhat uneven evening.

The cast is basically very strong with Mary Gordon Murray leading the way as Fraulein Schneider- the landlady who takes in the young American writer, Clifford Bradshaw in Berlin as 1929 turns to 1930. She displays a strong singing voice and is an excellent actor as well. Her complacent “So What?” in the first act and desperate “What Would You Do?” in the second act are highlights. Michael Marotta is also quite good as one of her lodgers and eventual fiance, Herr Schultz. A Jew, he’s one of those who gets confused and therefore duped by the Nazi occupation. “Why should they come after me?” he implores, “after all, I’m a German, too.” And we all know how that turned out.

Nathan Lee Graham leads the gang at the Kit Kat Klub in the Rep's "Cabaret." Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Nathan Lee Graham leads the gang at the Kit Kat Klub in the Rep’s “Cabaret.” Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

As the cabaret singer and free spirit, Sally Bowles, Liz Pearce shines with a strong singing voice and wins us over with her optimistic outlook on life. Unfortunately, you can’t take that kind of attitude when your life is truly  in danger every minute. Her spectacular interpretation of the iconic title song is both poignant and moving.  As Cliff, her lover and sometimes mentor, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka adds another strong singing and acting performance to the main characters.

The entire supporting cast and singing and dancing troupe are powerful as well. With special nods to Dana Winkle as the lady of easy virtue who has a “wink-wink” relationship with Fraulein Schneider and her arrangement for earning the rent and to Blake Ellis as Cliff’s first friend, Ernst, who turns out to be one of the many Nazi sympathizers popping up among the local Berliners.

Michael Marotta as Herr Schultz and Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider in "Cabaret" at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Michael Marotta as Herr Schultz and Mary Gordon Murray as Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret” at the Rep. Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

An odd choice for characterization makes Nathan Lee Graham’s interpretation of the mysterious Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub a bit of a befuddlement to me. First, his strange speech pattern makes for some serious diction problems- especially during the musical numbers. He appears to be going for a cross between original emcee Joel Grey and Geoffrey Holder of the “uncola” nut fame. It’s often distracting and a little over the top- even for a character as precocious as the emcee. His best moment is the sultry “I Don’t Care Much” in the second act- a song from the London revival.

I found the song choices, on the whole, a nice mix of old and new. The delightful “Pineapple Song” between Schneider and Schultz is always a welcome treasure  as is the “Telephone Dance,” which also gets cut quite often in productions of late. And “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” is still one of the most chilling and chillingly effective songs in any musical. On the other hand,  I appreciate dipping back into the original for the wonderful “Sitting Pretty” but then they segue into the film version, “The Money Song.” They don’t really go together artistically or dramatically. I also found it a bit odd that the stage was not “cleaned up” for the second act after guns of confetti littered the whole area at the end of the first act.

Liz Pearce belts out the title song as Sally Bowles in the Rep's "Cabaret." Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

Liz Pearce belts out the title song as Sally Bowles in the Rep’s “Cabaret.” Photo: Jerry Nauheim, Jr.

The delightful all girl Kit Kat Klub orchestra included Henry Palkes in drag and the orchestrations were nicely arranged by Christy Crowl. The dramatic lighting plot of John Lasiter worked well and the eclectic costumes of Angela Wendt were effective including some bizarre but appropriate outfits for the emcee. Although Michael Schweikardt’s set design was efficient and quick, it got a bit crowded and overlapped a bit too much at times which led to a few distractions in time and place.

“Cabaret” is another one of those bastions of the musical stage. It’s survived the various re-writes, re-musicalizations and reinterpretations. And, although I found this one a bit too disconcerting, it’s a worthwhile production with wonderful performances and those outstanding Kander and Ebb songs. It plays at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Mainstage through October 6th. Give the Rep a call at 314-968-4925 or contact them at http://www.repstl.org for tickets or more information.

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