Life is a zesty ‘Cabaret’ at Light Opera Works
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org August 13, 2013 5:56PM
Jenny Lamb and David Schlumpf star in Light Opera Works’ “Cabaret” | PHOTO BY JASMIN SHAH
When: Through Aug. 25
Where: Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston
Info: (847) 920-5360;
Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission
Updated: August 13, 2013 9:21PM
There is nothing like a first-rate revival to serve as a reminder of why a landmark musical has not only survived for close to a half century, but continues to prevail. Exhibit A: “Cabaret,” the John Kander and Fred Ebb classic that debuted on Broadway in 1966, became a hit film in 1972, and has been seen in countless incarnations ever since, including the first-rate version now being presented by Light Opera Works.
The show’s songs have long since become part of our collective DNA, so it is easy to forget that it’s the story that makes all the difference. The show’s book, by Joe Masteroff (inspired by the stories of Christopher Isherwood, and the play by John Van Druten), is a look at that dangerous cocktail of worldliness and obliviousness that can afflict any society. And any journalist might well be prompted to get up and cheer when one of the principal characters — a young American ex-pat writer living in Berlin just as the Nazis are coming to power — tells his flighty English girlfriend that she had better “read a newspaper” and wake up to what is happening in the real world.
This “Cabaret,” skillfully directed and zestily choreographed by Stacey Flaster, has much to recommend it, including the choice to underplay the seedier and more perverse aspects of Berlin life at the time. That understatement makes the changes taking place feel all the more insidious and sinister.
The large pit orchestra, conducted by Roger L. Bingaman, plus the brassy onstage female quartet that forms the Kit Kat Club band, create a winning sound. And the cast gives us crystal clear characterizations, with Light Opera’s artistic director, Rudy Hogenmiller (returning to the stage after a long absence), playing the Kit Kat’s ambisexual Emcee with subtle decadence. He also demonstrates he can still dance up a storm with pure Broadway finesse.
Jenny Lamb, another exceptional, impossibly leggy dancer, plays Sally Bowles, bringing an intriguing hint of Isadora Duncan to her portrayal as she suggests a flamboyant, neurotic, reckless spirit whose verve is a cover for sadness. Lamb also nails her big second act number, the show’s title song. And she is well-matched with David Schlumpf as Cliff Bradshaw, the tall, intelligent American whose life she invades, and who must struggle to hold on to his principles.
It is Barbara Clear’s stunning performance as Frau Schneider, the ever-pragmatic Berlin landlady, that almost steals the show with knockout turns in “Who Cares?” and “What Would You Do?” Schneider sees the writing on the wall and turns her back on what might have been a late-life marriage to Herr Schultz (Jim Heatherli). Schultz, the Jewish fruit-shop owner, fails to see what is coming.
The supporting cast, including a large ensemble of sassy dancers, moves with panache in this show that still packs a punch.