LOVE IN THE TIME OF NAZIS

Kelrik’s ‘Cabaret’ a tale of romance in a darkening era

June 10, 2010 

  • ‘CABARET’

    7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through June 26

    Unity, 1490 Southwood Drive, San Luis Obispo

    $16

    543-7529 or www.kelrikproductions.com

Kelrik Productions’ flamboyant production of “Cabaret” is a good example of adapting a big musical to a small venue.

With the traditional rows of chairs in front of the stage exchanged for round tables, each seating eight, the audience members can feel as though they are part of the Kit Kat Klub, the racy Berlin nightspot that burned bright as the creeping darkness of Nazi Germany descended to snuff it all out. They can even order a drink.

The story, originally based on stories by Christopher Isherwood, evolved into a play, then in the 1960s and ’70s several Broadway productions with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a film starring Liza Minnelli. Some of the tunes, like “Willkommen,” “Maybe This Time” and the title song, have endured over the decades.

The story is set in 1931, and there are two parallel love stories. Clifford Bradshaw, an American aspiring novelist, falls in love with Sally Bowles, an English chanteuse at the Kit Kat Klub. In the second love story Fraulein Schneider, Bradshaw’s landlady, is being courted by Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor.

To add some intrigue, Bradshaw is tricked into a smuggling operation by a German who befriended him, but turns out to be a Nazi. The scenes alternate between Bradshaw’s room, which he ends up sharing with Sally, and the club. Brian Lampert directs the fine cast.

The song and dance numbers at the Kit Kat Klub reflect what is going on in the story, at first sexy and fun, but increasingly dark, and finally tragic. Choreographer Suzy Miller has captured the original Bob Fosse style of the Broadway show for the high-energy, well-synchronized dance numbers, and the ensemble of Kit Kat boys and girls is excellent. The women are costumed in brief combinations of bras, panties, and garter belts, and sometimes the Emcee is as well.

Erik Austin is the Emcee, and he endows the role with a wicked sort of glee. The actors who have played the role on Broadway and film have been thin, if not wispy, so Austin’s larger build and close proximity to the audience gives his character a brash, physical, in-your-face presence. He’s obviously having a wonderful, manic time, and he shares his enthusiasm with the audience.

Heather Malcolm reflects layers of personality and emotion as Sally Bowles. She is sexy, pretty and funny at first, then increasingly touching as her world falls apart. She has a fine strong voice for the title song.

Garrett Marshall as Clifford Bradshaw is a new face — and voice— on the Kelrik stage. In his second year at PCPA, he is a strong actor and a good singer.

Delilah Shank and Mike Mesker, who play Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, are both veterans of area performances. Shank has a fine voice and a skill for acting as she sings. Both are charming and sympathetic as their promise of happiness melts away in the face of the Nazi threat.

Corinne Wieben is good as Fraulein Kost, a tenant in Schneider’s house who “entertains” German sailors.

Ernst, the Nazi who deceives Cliff Bradshaw, is played by Tim McManus, who gives him a friendly façade that crumbles to reveal a cold Nazi menace.

There are talented performers in this show, and unfortunately for area audiences, several of them are saying “Auf wiedersehen, a bientot, goodbye.” Director Brian Lampert is leaving the area, and Heather Malcolm is moving to San Diego for college. Corrine Wieben is leaving California. Some of the 10 ensemble members are also leaving.

Erik Austin’s own departure will leave a big gap in area theater when he leaves at the end of summer to move to San Diego. His Kelrik Productions has filled the local niche of theater for and by young people. We wish him well, but he will certainly be missed, and we hope he returns someday.

Kelrik’s final show will be “Into the Woods” at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre, July 16-18.

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