Like Liza Minnelli’s in Cabaret, the unforgettable image of Marlene Dietrich hovers over Kabarett & Cabaret, a production of the 2015-16 In Series at the Source Theatre. Kabarett & Cabaret: An Evening of Songs by the Jewish Emigres in Hollywood’s 1940s celebrates the lives of such varied artists as Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. The central conceit of the show is that these geniuses, among others, “come to the Cabaret,” first in Berlin and later in Los Angeles.
Act One takes place in Frederick Hollander’s Tingel-Tangel Kabarett in Berlin, during the years 1919-1934. Hollander, a German-Jewish impresario and composer, actually founded the Tingel-Tangel shortly after the Rosh Hashanah violence of Nazi youth against the Jews.
The production opens with the appealing “Boom! Boom! Boom!” (Schoenberg/Emmanuel Schickaneder). Kenneth Derby plays Hollander; Joseph Walsh as Arnold Schoenberg is at the piano.
Jase Parker plays noted film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and Andrew Adelsberger is Hanns Eisler, who collaborated with Brecht, wrote film scores for Hollywood, and was later asked to leave by the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee.
Brian J. Shaw portrays Franz Waxman, who wrote the music for Rebecca, The Philadelphia Story, and many other movies. The men, dressed in snappy suits, serenade the women in the room, announcing how their hearts beat faster (Boom! Boom! Boom!) when they see a pretty face. The performances are enjoyable, and the opening well-staged.
Lotte Lenya (Jennifer Suess) and Hedi Schoop (Meghan McCall) sing the striking “Prostitute’s Song” by Eisler and Bertolt Brecht. As Lenya, Suess conveys her love for husband Kurt Weill with skill. She has some especially fine moments in the heartfelt “Alone in a Big City,” (Waxman/Max Colpet) a Dietrich classic. Hedi Schoop was an interesting character in and of herself; she created original and very popular ceramic figures, and she ultimately had her own successful business. McCall has an innocent air and attacks her role with brio. As the Hostess, Karin Rozniseck is attractive and vivacious, and . performs her songs creditably and lets her characterization take center stage. Nahm Darr, Michael Rincon, Josh Katz, and Bryce Peterson provide capable support in smaller roles.
Jase Parker excels in “Take It Off, Petronella!” a Hollander satire of the nude dancing which was also popular in Berlin at the time. The highlight of Act One is “Let’s Blame the Jews,” a version of the Habanera in Bizet’s Carmen with satirical lyrics. It features heel-clicking, goose-stepping, and Nazi salutes, all well-executed, and all anticipating the horrors to come. It was originally the sensation of Hollander’s Ghosts in the Villa Stern, which opened the Tingel-Tangel and which remains one of the best parodies of anti-Semitism ever. All the actors do a marvelous job here. There is even an imaginative surprise ending to Act One, which sends the audience out for intermission with a satisfying sense of catharsis.
In Act Two, the presence of a giant American flag alerts us to the fact that we are now in the good old US of A. We are in the newly christened Freddy Hollander’s Cabaret on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, 1936-49.
Two Hollander songs from Billy Wilder’s dark comedy A Foreign Affair are featured; “Illusions”; and “The Ruins of Berlin.” Waxman’s music is represented by a pleasing “Who Wants Love?” from The Bride Wore Red. Other high points are the hilarious “Schickelgruber” (music by Weill; lyrics by Howard Dietz); and “Speak Low”(Weill/Ogden Nash) from One Touch of Venus.
The songs come from the worlds of film, cabaret, and opera. Costume Design is well-suited to the production. Set Design (Dahm Robertson) enhances the “Cabaret” theme. Lighting by Stephan Johnson is adroit, and Music Director Joseph Walsh handles the variety of music and vocal styles with ease.
The book, by Jesse “Ace” Croll & Sasha Olinick, contains typical “Kabarett” humor, much historical detail about the characters, and more factual assertions than it probably should. The script sometimes requires the actors to recite their biographies rather than engage in dramatic action. Still, Director Sasha Olinick provides an amusing and original staging of this unique treasure trove of material.
Running Time: Two and one-half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.