CABARET @ Center Rep, Walnut Creek

Left - Right:Kate Del Castillo, Amy Nielson,Courtney Iventosch,Lisa Price,Casi Maggio,Alex Rodriguez

CABARET: Book by Joe Masteroff, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Music by John Kander. Directed by Mindy Cooper, Choreographed by Joe Bowerman and Mindy Cooper

Center REPertory Company 1601 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek, CA

925-943-7469 or May 21-June 27, 2009


To produce Cabaret that is forever associated with Joel Grey, Liza Minnelli must be a daunting undertaking, and if any local theatre company could come out a winner, it is Walnut Creeks’ Center Repertory Theatre. Their recent gem was the superb Enchanted April that combined ingenious sets with spot on directing. This reviewer and guest came with enthusiastic optimism for tonight’s opening and left with confusion and disappointment. Director Mindy Cooper has replaced glitzy and decadent with seedy, bawdy, and allowed Robert Broadfoot, a multiple award winning scenic designer, to construct a set that hinders rather than enhance the show. (If you wish to see one of his scenic masterpieces, visit San Jose Rep’s “The25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”). A creaky miniature revolving stage was a further distraction.

There was a hint that there was trouble in River City when Director Cooper elected to create an unadorned Emcee leading the entire cast (all very competent dancers and singers) in “Willkommen” that should establish him as the master of the entire production. By doing so, Cooper has shifted the emphasis to the characters of Sally Bowles (Kate Del Castillo)/ Clifford (Jeffrey Draper) and Frau Schneider (Milissa Carey)/ Herr Schultz (Jarion Monroe) and diluted the impact of the Emcee. That being said, we are at the Kit Kat Klub in Weimar Berlin of 1931 ready to “hear the music play.”

The book by Joe Masteroff, based on John van Druten’s play “I Am a Camera” that was a dramatization of Christopher Isherwood's “Berlin Stories”, has lyrics and music provided by Fred Ebb and John Kander. It created a memorable evening with its opening on Broadway in 1966, running for1,165 performances with Joel Grey as the Emcee. Grey went on to the 1972 film version with Liza Minnelli and Michael York as Clifford.

Cabaret”, set during Hitler’s rise to power, revolves around cabaret performer, irresponsible Sally Bowles, who moves in with Clifford an aspiring American novelist, after she is kicked out of the Kit Kat Klub inhabited by sexually charged, often-androgynous denizens. They denizens shelter themselves from impending Nazi takeover and imminent WW II with "It’s no good in sitting alone in your room, come hear the music play!" A form of love develops between Sally and Clifford but external forces will drive them apart. Other tragic figures are Frauelin Schneider, a German property owner, and her Jewish admirer, Herr Schultz.

Cooper’s inexplicable decision to make the Emcee an actor in, rather than the driving force in the play, does injustice to Nick Gabriel who only shines in act two with “I Don’t Care Much.” The staging of the satirical/cutting humorous “If You Could She Her (In My Eyes)” dance with the gorilla as a black minstrel player was an embarrassment and the act one finale “Tommorrow Belongs to Me” foreshadowing the impending Nazi purge of “undesirables” should have been a gut-wrencher. It was not.

Early on, Milissa Carey proves her ability to act out a solo song with the semi-humorous “So What?” and later with the tearful yet forceful “What Would You do.” The charisma between the very capable Jarion Monroe and Carey blossoms in their duets “It Couldn’t Please Me More”, and “Married.” Kathryn Zadan is absolutely perfect in the role of Fraulein Kost who “entertains” the sailors. Jeffery Draper is by far the best Clifford Bradshaw I have seen and his interaction with Sally explodes with verisimilitude in their duet “Perfectly Marvelous.” Tall, attractive Kate Del Castillo puts her individual stamp on the difficult lead role of Sally Bowles early with “Don’t Tell Momma” and later with “Maybe This Time” before her magnum opus of “Cabaret” just before the finale.

Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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