This `Cabaret' just `a little more sexy'

Annapolis Summer Garden stages seductive take on 1930s Berlin



Cabaret opened on Broadway the same year that Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre was founded - 1966. Now the indestructible musical comes to life in the city troupe's third production of the season.

Kander and Ebb's score has survived numerous revivals and interpretations, starting with its three-year inaugural run featuring Jill Haworth, Joel Grey, Jack Gilford and Lotte Lenye. It became a 1972 award-winning movie starring Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles and Grey, who again starred as the Emcee in a 1987 revival. Another Broadway revival in 1998, featuring Natasha Richardson as Sally with Alan Cumming as the Emcee, ran for 2,377 performances and won four Tony Awards.

In his notes for Summer Garden, Director Jerry Vess warns that his interpretation "is a little more sexy than the original version from the 1960s but not as explicit as the recent revival."

The production easily rates a PG-13 - a far cry from this season's opener, Cinderella.

Set during the Weimar Republic era in a sleazy club in Berlin, the story tells of young American writer Clifford Bradshaw arriving in Berlin to work on his novel. On the train Cliff meets Ernst Ludwig, who offers him work and suggests he stay at Fraulein Schneider's establishment. After settling in, Cliff heads for the Kit Kat Klub, where he meets British singer Sally Bowles, who soon shows up at his room looking for a place to live.

At Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, the onstage musicians transport us back to the decadent nightlife of Berlin in 1930. The sinister, androgynous Emcee, played by eye-shadowed, lipsticked Steve Love, delivers a fine "Wilkommen" and is especially effective in "If You Could See Her" as he dances with a gorilla in a dress.

Seen in ASGT's most recent show, Urinetown, as Officer Lockstock, Judson Davis delivers a stunning portrayal of Cliff Bradshaw. He shows off a warm baritone in "Perfectly Marvelous" and "Don't Go."

Fine actress-singer Sheri Kuznicki looks the part and conveys the offbeat charm and vulnerability that the role of Sally Bowles requires, and she has great chemistry with Davis' Cliff.

Straddling a chair in a pose reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich's "Blue Angel," Kuznicki delivers a seductive "Don't Tell Mama" and a compelling "Maybe This Time" and is effective in her duets with Davis. But Kuznicki's Sally could use more breeziness and insouciance, especially in her big "Cabaret" number, which seemed a bit stiff on Sunday.

Summer Garden newcomer Heidi Toll gives a multidimensional portrayal of Fraulein Schneider, conveying a survivor's strength in a resigned and philosophical "So What." Her reflections on her heartbreaking choice in "What Would You Do?" reveal one of the best singing voices in the show. The scenes she shares with Noel Milan's Herr Schultz in the duets "Married" and "It Couldn't Please Me More (A Pineapple)" are especially touching.

As Ernst and Fraulein Kost, who first seem like realists doing what's necessary to survive, Dean Davis and Lynn Garretson skillfully evolve into sinister, despicable Nazis.

The entire ensemble generally does well as a high-kicking line of dancers and a singing chorus, although "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" needs more passion to evoke our fears.

Vess, the director, wisely chooses to have his cast refrain from assuming phony foreign accents and exploits the plot's darker elements to reveal the political climate of 1930s Germany.

Anita O'Connor serves as music director, choosing to bring live music on stage with Trent Goldsmith and his ensemble of musicians.

Craig Cipolini's choreography is exciting, while avoiding the pitfalls of being too imitative of Bob Fosse's original work. The set creates the proper atmosphere, working well to provide quick scene changes. Costumes authentically evoke the historical period.

Cabaret continues at 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through Sept. 2. Reservations: 410-268-9212.

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