By Thom deMartino
You find yourself in a darkened hallway, as you approach the hostess’ podium: your reservation confirmed, you’re then escorted through a dressing room of elegant and scantily-clad performers, who enthusiastically and smilingly welcome you to the show. The indigo-lit nightclub is already nearly at capacity, the patrons laughing and chatting as they cluster at their elevated tables, as you are led to your own – and the lights begin to dim here, at the legendary Kit Kat Klub.
Welcome to the experience that is The Gem Theater’s production of “Cabaret.”
It’s 1931 Berlin, a cosmopolitan city of contradictions: libertine and sensual, yet with a taut darkness rising politically and culturally — in the form of the Nazi Party. But this doesn’t faze either the patrons or performers at the Kit Kat, so embroiled in their own daily lives as to not notice what’s going on around them.
Stunning starlet Sally Bowles (Nicole Cassesso) may be the top-billing performer at the club, but she’s beginning to lose favor with the owner, Max (Edgar Torrens). Young, handsome and aspiring American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Alex Bodrero) is new in town — earning a living teaching English, working on his novel, and having just rented a room from the kindly Fraulein Schneider (Beth Hansen) — happens to visit the establishment and cross paths with Sally, and the chemistry is instantaneous.
When she finds herself out of both job and home, Sally persuades Cliff to let her stay with him, in what blossoms into a (sometimes) tumultuous relationship, as Fraulein Schneider herself is wooed by the elderly and good-hearted Herr Schultz (Duane Thomas), a grocer of Jewish descent. But despite the love the two couples have, that darkness is rising, sometimes from unexpected angles: such as Ernst Ludwig (Kayden Narey), who has hired Cliff both to teach him English, and to pick up packages in Paris to deliver to Berlin – no questions asked.
One More Productions has done something amazing, and quite special with this production of “Cabaret”, having transformed their traditional theater into a nearly-authentic 1930’s German nightclub: on the stage, complete with bar, a theater in-the-round (which also does mean that there is indeed limited seating for each performance, and why reservations are so important for this particular show.) The audience is truly immersed in, and part of, the show.
Danny Diaz, as the charismatic Emcee, hypnotizes and titillates — and so, too, does the bevvy of respectively beautiful and handsome performers of the Kit Kat, with their witty and risque musical numbers; Hanson delivers a powerful performance as the kindly and sympathetic landlady Schneider, beholden to political and cultural circumstances beyond her control; Bodrero is subtle and charming as the American writer looking for material, but finding something deeper, heavier, and more than he bargained for; and Narey as Ludwig is almost insidiously persuasive, as a young man who truly believes in his cause.
But Cassesso, as Sally Bowles, truly graces the show with her talents. Not only is it a matter of scintillating musical performances by her: but the nuanced, forced, deliberate naivete that she gives Bowles, speaks something deeper about the world today – and arguably, human nature, itself.
While One More Productions at The Gem Theater is already renowned for the quality of their productions, the timeliness of the Damien Lorton-directed show must be acknowledged: in challenging times, of changing values, art often serves as a mirror to ourselves – who we are, who we choose to be. With “Cabaret,” the audience can discover that, for themselves, in this modern day.
An incredible, dazzling experience, “Cabaret” at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove is not to be missed, an actual must-see: and with limited seating available at the Kit Kat Klub, is one to get your reservations for now.
“Cabaret.” Nicole Cassesso, Danny Diaz and Alex Bodrero star in this timely, colorful look at pre-war Berlin, and the denizens of its nightlife. Playing through Oct. 29 at The Gem Theater, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Call 714-741-9550 x221 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for ticketing information.
Categories: Arts & Leisure