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Review: ‘Cabaret’ at Workhouse Arts Center

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Everybody loves a winner. The song “Maybe This Time” reminds one of the spark of hope in a new beginning, what it feels like to cross a path and find someone and find a home. How very simple and very similar is the human desire to belong.

Alternatively, bias creates an impossible wall. A few unlikely souls may wish to stay at the fringe, oblivious or unable to acknowledge an ominous presence. Set in 1931 Berlin, as Nazis are coming to power, and at the threshold of political developments of Weimar Germany, themes of separation and marginalization are woven through Cabaret, a musical based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. For this production at Workhouse Arts Center, book is by Joe Masteroff with direction and choreography by Jeffrey Davis and Mary Payne.

Caberet now playing at Workhouse Arts Center. Photo courtesy of Workhouse Arts Center.

Act One opens at the underground Kit Kat Klub where Emcee, played by Jonathan Litalien, urges his audience to indulge, whatever the urge may be. With “Willkommen,” we find a chorus of eight let loose. Jonathan Litalien controls the movement of it all, slyly introducing each cast member, powerfully taking ownership while donning a tiny little corset, strutting to full effect with a voice and huge style to match. Backing up the swagger is the five-piece Band with Darin Stringer, Theresa Arnold, Jack Dusek, Justin Baughman, Jahari Fleetwood and Ben Irwin. Davis and Payne set choreography to good effect with fingers that greedily wave in “Money” or the selective seduction of legs tidily crossed or opening wide.

With “So What,” and its refrain of, “for the sun will rise and the moon will set, learn how to settle for what you can get,” we meet middle-aged boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider, played by Kristen Jepperson. Fraulein Schneider assures the virtue of not pushing too hard, and with Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor played by John Hollinger, the two have much in common. Jepperson and Hollinger merge perfectly in “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and later in “Married.” In the meantime, boarding house occupant Fraulein Kost, played by Lauren Hardcastle, ups the hustle with abundant male company.

The Kit Kat Klub is the liquid push-and-pull of chance and indulgence, but it is Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house that is the anchor for the emerging relationship between Cliff Bradshaw, played by Ben Peter and Sally Bowles played by Mara Stewart. Ben Peter rounds out his portrayal in a substantial and likeable manner; he is just the guy next door. A displaced American writer, Cliff is looking for some inspiration, or certainly waiting for a muse to strike. The muse comes in the form of Sally Bowles, a Kit Kat Klub standout played by Mara Stewart. They are both expatriates and refugees in one way or another.

Mara Stewart expresses resounding emotions of hope in a voice that transports in “Maybe This Time” and carries the halting emotions of fatigue and surrender with “Cabaret.” You are sure to know other songs, and in a setting that can seem all too familiar despite the age of the 1966 Broadway production, the 1951 play, or the 1939 short novel, Goodbye to Berlin.

Take advantage of this production. You’ll find some sound laughter, good music, dedicated actors, and plenty to think about.

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Cabaret plays through October 8, 2017 at Workhouse Arts Center – 9518 Workhouse Way, in Lorton, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 584-2900, or purchase them online.

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