In a moving production and stark departure from its usual light-hearted dinner theater offerings, Cabaret at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater is brilliantly directed by Shawn R. Martin and musically directed by Daniel Speis. This delightfully dark and visceral musical is brought to life by powerhouse performances and outstanding staging and technical elements.
With a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, Cabaret tells the story of a romantic relationship between American writer Clifford Bradshaw and English cabaret singer, Sally Bowles. Clifford arrives in Berlin to work on a new novel and meets Sally, lead singer at the Kit Kat Klub, just as the Nazi Party is beginning to rise to power in 1930. The main action of the story is commented upon in production numbers by the Master of Ceremonies, or Emcee, of the Kit Kat Klub and the ensemble. Relationships between an elderly widowed couple and various other lodgers in Cliff and Sally’s boarding house are also put to the test at the rise of the Third Reich.
Ryan Perry is endearing and authentic as American novelist swept up in the rise of the Third Reich, Clifford Bradshaw. His solo “Why Should I Wake Up?” was wonderful and his emotional outburst towards the end of Act II was extremely powerful.
As lead cabaret singer Sally Bowles, Zoe D’heedene is exceptional. She brings the perfect amount of naughty, old-fashioned sex appeal mixed with fragility and insecurity to a very difficult role. Her performance of the title song was a thinly veiled mental breakdown and an emotional powerhouse, with smart directorial choices from Martin.
Although the main storyline focuses on the romance between Cliff and Sally, the supporting characters actually steal the show in this production. Scott Ruble is phenomenal as the Master of Ceremonies, or Emcee, at the Kit Kat Club. His charisma and energy onstage is fantastic and his facial expressions are excellent. Ruble displays an incredible amount of versatility and a natural instinct to command the stage.
David Porterfield and Jackie Rebok are amazing as doomed older couple Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider. Their scenes alone are worth the price of admission and their duets are incredible. Rebok is wonderfully wry and very pragmatic as an elderly widowed landlady. Their scene near the top of Act II was heartbreaking and Rebok followed it with a phenomenally performed (and very well blocked) rendition of “’What Would You Do?” Porterfield also steals the show in several scenes, including his number “Meeskite.” His accent and his diction are both impeccable and Porterfield displays wonderfully animated facial expressions and a perfect blend of an over-the-top and emotionally sincere gentleman.
Rennes Carbaugh is very impressive as Berlin native and later Nazi, Ernst Ludwig. Carbaugh makes a villainous character very humorous and his comedic timing is excellent. Laura J. Martin is pert and sassy as the lodger of “loose morals” Fraulein Kost. A slapstick style scene between Laura J. Martin, Porterfield, and Rebok near the end of Act I was very well-executed and a rare moment of lighthearted levity in the dark show.
The ensemble, comprised of Kaitlyn Lamkin, Shannen Banzhoff, Marley Mueller-Brown, Gaby Tokach, Arielle Pizana, and Katie Tolentino as Kit-Kat Klub Girls and Dan Ritchey, Tim Diehl, Marquis Allgood, and Maverick McKee as Kit Kat Klub Boys and Sailors, does a fantastic job in various roles throughout the story. The Kit Kat Klub Girls have an excellent chance to showcase their different personalities and impressive dancing skills during the number “Sitting Pretty” and Kaitlyn Lamkin, Tim Diehl, Marquis Allgood, and Maverick McKee form a gorgeous quartet during the first rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”
Choreography by Alyssa Little is outstanding and the best production factor of the production. The unique staging, inventive styles, and creative movements, precisely executed by the cast, were outstanding.
The set, designed by Jim and Sue Eckel, is a simple, bleak black and white background with a glamorous sparkling drop curtain for scenes in the Kit Kat Klub. The production overall manages a very impressive and difficult feat for a stage show by evoking the feel of a black and white film.
Costumes, nicely designed by Barbie Gross, are all in various shades of black, white and gray. Period era suits and dresses are all dark and dull for the civilians, while costumes for the performers in the club are more risque and eye catching. A nice touch and great asset to the story was that the only pop of color in the entire show is the red dress Sally wears while singing the title number.
The lighting, designed by Steve Knapp, uses a stark spotlight to great effect during solo numbers in the Kit Kat Klub. The different tones and gradual changes in color as the story grows darker was very impressive. This is a Cabaret not to be missed!
Running Time: Two hours, with one 20-minute intermission.
Cabaret plays through November 14, 2015 at the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater – 44 North Potomac Street, in Hagerstown, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 739-7469, or purchase them online.