Toys aren't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the dark, Weimar Republic-era musical Cabaret. But there's a toy train in director Molly Smith's divinely re-imagined production at Washington's Arena Stage. The train elicits appreciative chuckles from the audience when it makes its first appearance; when it reappears, however, this toy is anything but a plaything.
The miniature train is just one of the inventive approaches Smith and her choreographer, David Neumann, have found to John Kander and Fred Ebb's 1966 musical. Cabaret's most famous directors, Broadway's Harold Prince, Hollywood's Bob Fosse and London's Sam Mendes, came up with highly disparate, powerful interpretations of this account of an American novelist and a cabaret singer in 1930s Berlin (adapted by Joe Masteroff from a play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood). It is all the more to Smith's credit that, in the wake of such indelible predecessors, she has put her own stamp on the musical.