‘Cabaret’ is rousing but not all fun and games

Iconic musical get powerful turn on local stage with aid of live band

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In his director’s notes for the “Cabaret” program — the musical opened Sept. 6 at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center — Nick Sugar, aka Master of Ceremonies, says this is his seventh production of “Cabaret.” And, he glides gracefully through the scenes — popping up here and there, with a snarky grin and choice words, tying the production together and sending an audience home feeling far edgier than when they arrived. It’s really a don’t-miss performance — running through Oct. 13.

One is reminded of director/actor Sugar’s dance background in his own graceful performance as well as the way other characters move onstage while storm clouds gather in early 1930s Berlin — and blow across Europe. Kate Bashore’s lighting seems to add to the tense atmosphere.

Clever stage design by Brandon Philip Case includes some audience members in the club décor, with red and gold ornate lamps and small tables up tight against the rim of the stage — and along part of the first row. Festive and edgy at once …

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1966 with several Tony Awards, was followed by a film version in 1972 and is a skillful blend of sun and shadow, sarcasm and wit — set mostly in Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub, where sexy dancers perform and one imagines a haze of smoke …

Young American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Archie Archuleta) meets friendly German Ernst Ludwig (Matt LaFontaine) as their train travels toward Berlin. Bradshaw plans to write his first novel, while supporting himself by teaching English, somewhat oblivious — as many Americans were — of the Nazi rise to power. Ludwig helps him find a place to live in the boardinghouse operated by Fraulein Schneider (a strong Annie Dwyer) — and the story proceeds. The seemingly cheerful, friendly Ludwig shows another facet as the story develops and we’re not quite sure about some other characters.

Another of Schneider’s boarders is brassy blonde Fraulein Kost (Mary McGroary), who attracts a parade of sailors and others as guests.

Ludwig also recommended that Bradshaw visit the Kit Kat Klub for a taste of Berlin nightlife, to enjoy wine, women and music — and he is immediately attracted to lead Kit Kat girl, the English Sally Bowles (Lynzee Lee Jones), who soon moves in with him in the boardinghouse operated by Fraulein Schneider, after the jealous club owner kicks her out.

A parallel and contrasting romance between Schneider and older Jewish merchant Herr Schultz (Tom Mullin) runs through the play, reminding the audience of the rising Nazi power as an ongoing story layer, as well as the possibility of romance for older people.

Kander and Ebb’s music and lyrics for “Cabaret” are still running through my head. In this production a fine score is enhanced with actors’ strong vocal performances — and by keyboard whiz and music director Dona Kolpan Debreceni — with a live band that just makes such a difference. One can’t help but go out into the night humming.

One isn’t skipping while humming however, because the underlying rumble of disaster also surfaces periodically, with a remark or a rendering of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” the Nazi anthem.

Sugar concludes in his notes that he “wanted to make sure, this story is not only heard, but remembered and honored.”

“I hope that you take a wonderful journey with all of us tonight. And after that journey, we leave here with a deep understanding of the cruelty in our world and the ability to transform that understanding into kindness, compassion and love for one another.”

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