Colonial Players' musical 'Cabaret' reflects powerful message of period 'Environmental' production evokes dread of Nazi rise in Germany of the 1930s

March 26, 1998|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At the same time a revival of "Cabaret" is on Broadway with a set designed to make the audience feel it is part of the show, Colonial Players in Annapolis is in mid-run of its "environmental" production of the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical.

Some touches in director Mickey Handwerger's take on the story set in 1930s Berlin are subtle, some are fun, and some hit you like a sledgehammer.

The lobby of the theater on East Street is decorated with the abstract paintings of Vasily Kandinsky, a Russian artist working in Germany in the 1930s, and Kit Kat girls mingle with the audience before the show starts. At the end, however, the girls are gone and the paintings have been replaced by Nazi posters and a Nazi flag.

Who thinks of what the audience sees when they're leaving? The folks at Colonial Players did.

The dread of the Nazi takeover hangs in the atmosphere throughout the performance.

Early on, the shady Ernst Ludwig hands American novelist Clifford Bradshaw a copy of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" when they meet on a train. Later, Fraulein Schneider, the landlady, rejects Herr Schultz, the grocer, even though she loves him, because marrying a Jew would be tantamount to suicide.

At the end, the Kit Kat Club performers are frozen in a silent tableau, staring blankly.

Here is where I object. The actors leave the stage and never return for a curtain call. The audience is cheated of the opportunity to acknowledge a powerful performance, and the cast is cheated of a well-deserved ovation.

As Clifford Bradshaw, James Gallagher projects a mounting concern that mirrors the brewing political storm. Katy McAllister's Sally Bowles, the star Kit Kat girl who sets up light housekeeping with Bradshaw, conveys her reluctance to invest in anything except the stage. Her final singing of the title song was touching.

As the pragmatic landlady, Karen Cannon makes the most of her songs -- grateful for Schultz's gift of fruit in "It Couldn't Please Me More," and soul-searching in "What Would You Do?" as she decides to leave him. Noel Milan as Herr Schultz is a kindly optimist, heartbreaking in his belief that anti-Semitism will pass.

Greg Peace invests Ernst Ludwig, a Nazi sympathizer, with a frightening core, and Carole Cox plays the promiscuous Fraulein Kost with a humor that moves from sympathetic to sinister.

Dan Herrel as the clown-faced Kit Kat Club master of ceremonies opens with a seductive "Willkommen," moves to the debauchery of the menage a trois in "Sitting Pretty" and descends into the Nazi salute in the chilling "Tomorrow Belongs to Me."

Barbara Ackerman Seldes, Lynn Garrelson, Colleen Wilburt and Cynthia Lasner play the Kit Kat girls with insouciance until they become the bored automatons of the final scene.

"Cabaret" continues Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through April 4.

Information: 410-263-0533.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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