Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 15, 2015
When I heard that the Welk Theatre was doing “Cabaret,” I thought, ‘This is gonna be a squeaky-clean, watered-down version with no sex or drugs. Both are intrinsic to the superb Kander and Ebb musical set in 1931 Berlin, on the cusp of the Nazi takeover. Well, I’m happy to say, it’s an outstanding production, which the theater itself rates PG-13.
There’s plenty of innuendo and sexy moves, but no drugs, though the flighty, high-spirited chanteuse, Sally Bowles, is an addict in most versions of the 1966 megahit. Here, she merely drinks gin and her nauseating hangover antidote: a raw egg and Worcestershire sauce.
The story, based on the John Van Druten play, “I Am a Camera,” which was, in turn, adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s novel, “Goodbye to Berlin,” tells of a young writer, Cliff Bradshaw, who’s come to Berlin for inspiration. On the train, he encounters the affable Ernst, who turns out to be a virulent fascist. Through Ernst, Cliff meets irresistible but unstable Sally, who impetuously moves in with him and steals his heart.
Our omnipresent host is the deliciously decadent, androgynous Emcee, who’s part of every magnificent musical number – each a commentary on the action, which includes a doomed late-life romance and the encroaching takeover by Hitler and his Henchmen.
Director/choreographer Ray Limon hews close to the two Broadway revivals starring Alan Cumming, while adding some bold choices of his own.
At the center of it all is Jeffrey Scott Parsons as the Emcee. In stormtrooper garb or in drag, this expert hoofer displays musical, dramatic and emotional range, and a cynicism belied by his toothy smile. The rest of the leads are potent, though the accents are erratic. The deadpan, ambisexual Kit Kat chorus is excellent, and the 5-piece band, under the direction of keyboardist Justin Gray, is perfectly brash and brassy.
The final image is chilling. As Cliff tried to tell Sally, “the party was over.” But the fizz of this “Cabaret” will leave you with fond memories – and political indigestion.
“Cabaret ” runs through July 26 at the Welk Resort in Escondido.
©2015 PAT LAUNER