At first blush, it might seem that "Cabaret" isn't the proper fare for the local dinner-theater circuit, where audiences are accustomed to seeing the more refined family musicals.
As the sprightly, engaging revival at Elizabeth Howard's Curtain Call Dinner Theatre makes clear, "Cabaret" is as bawdy as they come for a mainstream musical.
Centered on the decadent Kit Kat Klub in 1930 Berlin, the Joe Masteroff-Fred Ebb-John Kander musical is, at heart, a shrewdly crafted work of rousing entertainment. The solo and ensemble numbers are meant to be show-stopping. The characterizations, by and large, are based on stock-company familiarity.
Even the attempts at an examination of the society--a wasting, drifting Germany a few years before the Nazis took over completely--are kept mostly rudimentary.
Besides, "Cabaret" is a boy-meets-girl saga--even if the heroine, Sally Bowles (its best-known character, taken from the Christopher Isherwood stories and the John Van Druten play), is a dedicated wanton and, in her own way, a genuine rebel.
Although the Curtain Call production (through June 23 in Tustin) is a trifle mannered at times, director John Ferola and his tiny cast nevertheless make the mood shifts between comic patter and profound observation smoothly plausible.
Some of the performances, however, are no more than dutiful: Brian Schucker as the American writer, Joe Mattarazzo as the Jewish storekeeper, and Dale Jones as the Nazi functionary. But the Kit Kat girls are an exuberant lot (in particular, Adriane Coros as the club's busiest tart). And Deborah Brucher--as Fraulein Schneider, who fearfully turns aside the Jewish widower's offer of marriage--gives a strong, touching performance.
Unfortunately, Susan Hoffman's playing of Sally Bowles at her most outrageous is quite unexceptional. Neither flamboyant flake nor beguiling waif, this Bowles is without wild flair--instead, she is merely pouty, cuddly, spunky. But Hoffman more than delivers in her closing scenes with a fine, straightforward belting of the title song, followed by a poignantly acted last confrontation with the writer-hero.
Best of all, there is George Quick's spectacular turn as the Kit Kat emcee, a role that comes closest to "Cabaret's" aspirations to be societal dissector. A grotesquely effete jester, the emcee is given to brutally mocking--and chillingly prophetic--asides to the audience. His "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," sung with young Nazi converts, is a paean to a Hitler fatherland. His "If You Could See Her (Through My Eyes)," performed while waltzing demurely with a gorilla in a pink tutu, is sardonically anti-Semitic.
At the close of the Curtain Call's "Cabaret," the emcee once again does his famous fade-out--still leering, still giggling, but he is a hollowed creature, a symbol of the passing of a society, dead at the core.
It is a fleeting but ominous epilogue, a brush with horrifying reality that transcends the mainstream musical formula.