In “Cabaret,” American novelist Clifford Bradshaw explores the sexy, seedy side of prewar Berlin, until the city turns dangerous during the Nazi Party’s rise to power.
Audiences are likely familiar with the story of “Cabaret,” either by way of the 1972 film starring Liza Minnelli or through some version of the musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1966 and has received a number of revivals.
The current touring production, staged by New York City’s Roundabout Theatre Company and playing at the Saenger Theatre through April 10, is inspired by director Sam Mendes’ 1993 revival that ramped up the show’s sexuality to eye-popping levels.
Fans of the film might be surprised by the tawdriness, but this production proves that “Cabaret” still packs a punch, as the iconic characters navigate the dangerous waters of love, sex and sweeping social changes.
The first act of “Cabaret” introduces Bradshaw (Lee Aaron Rosen) and a young German acquaintance, Ernst Ludwig (Ned Noyes). Ludwig takes Bradshaw out for a night at the Kit Kat Club, where Bradshaw meets Sally Bowles (Andrea Goss), the English chanteuse that becomes his muse.
The show takes a dark twist when Ludwig is revealed to be a Nazi supporter, and the growing popularity of the fascist regime threatens the lively spirit of Berlin.
Much of the show’s appeal comes from the powerful story, soundtracked by swinging jazz music of the era. But what really brings this production to life is the cast.
The cast of “Cabaret” is the most impressive ensemble to take the stage during this season of Broadway in New Orleans.
As the flamboyant emcee of the Kit Kat Club, Randy Harrison alternates between cheeky, campy fun and frightful menace. His performance of “If You Could See Her,” accompanied by a dancing gorilla, is a lovely, touching romp that ends on a chilling note.
As Bradshaw and Ludwig, Rosen’s and Noyes’ roles require little singing and dancing, giving the actors an opportunity to anchor the show’s dramatic core.
The role of Bowles has been played through the years by a number of high-profile stars, and Goss holds her own here. She plays up Bowles’ sultry side at the beginning of the show with “Don’t Tell Mama,” then goes on to snarl her way through the show’s signature tune, “Cabaret,” a solo performance that encompasses all the fear and anger that drives the show’s second act.
A relationship between boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider (Shannon Cochran) and Herr Schultz (Mark Nelson), a Jewish fruit merchant, provides the turning point for the story. Both actors turn in fine performances, though Cochran gets saddled with several numbers — “So What,” “What Would You Do” — that dampen the pace of the show.
The Kit Kat Club, recreated onstage by set designer Robert Brill, also is a star of the show, as the trick of bringing the nightclub into the theater blurs the lines between high and low entertainment.
The orchestra sits atop a multilevel stage design as the house band of the Kit Kat Club. Many of the dancers, dubbed the Kit Kat Girls and the Kit Kat Boys, do double duty in the band, and the instrumental number that opens the second act, “Entr’ Acte,” rivals anything on Frenchmen Street.
Still, it’s the Kit Kat Girls that attract the most attention, a burlesque troupe outfitted in silk and lace, serving as an updated embodiment of the cabaret era.
As the clash between political and social forces drives “Cabaret” toward its conclusion, the show culminates with a gut-wrenching final scene that leaves audiences reeling.