Life, or something like it

Cabaret is a perfect fit for the Chico Cabaret theater

EIN ENSEMBLE Members of the <i>Cabaret </i>cabaret, from left Stephanie Shields, Allison Rich, Max Zachai, Jake Samples, Mary Shaffo, Kimberly A. Mendez and Vanessa Ceccarelli.

EIN ENSEMBLE Members of the Cabaret cabaret, from left Stephanie Shields, Allison Rich, Max Zachai, Jake Samples, Mary Shaffo, Kimberly A. Mendez and Vanessa Ceccarelli.

Photo By Tom Angel

The intimate setting at the Chico Cabaret doesn’t require much transformation for its current show, Cabaret, appropriately enough. The quaint, small stage lined with little individual tables blends into the set of the musical’s Kit Kat Klub stage.

From the corner, the five-person band kicked in, and the shirtless Master of Ceremonies (Jake Samples) with suspenders and caked-on makeup welcomed the audience with the classic opening number, “Wilkommen.”

Though the sheer volume of a live band was at times distracting, Samples exuded a tasteful eccentricity above the din and created a forget-all-your-worries environment that he and the chorus of Kit Kat Girls thrived in.

At the heart of Cabaret are two love affairs—the main one, between an American, Clifford Bradshaw (Bryan Brophy), and the club’s star, Sally Bowles (Rebecca Yarbrough), and the other between Fraulein Schneider (Jillian Hodnet) and the Jew Ernst Ludwig (Sean Green). In both cases the woman in each relationship decides to push love aside. For Schneider it’s due to the pressures of conformity during the volatile time the play takes place, and for Bowles it’s a matter of choosing the lavish lifestyle of a Berlin performer instead of settling down and having a baby with Bradshaw in a more stable America.

Cabaret is set in a Berlin burlesque club during the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany, and what has always been so remarkable about the musical, and is so nicely done in this production, is the alternation between the dramatic (and sometimes comical) scenes and the risquà song-and-dance numbers. The storyline interwoven with the musical numbers reflects the dissonance between what’s happening on stage and events in the real world. As Sally Bowles famously sings, “Life is a cabaret!”

The dynamic worked especially well in the Chico Cabaret Theatre, as the side sets were reserved more for the dramatic scenes while the main stage was primarily for the Kit Kat Klub numbers.

These numbers, performed by Yarbrough, the Kit Kat girls and Samples’ flamboyantly odd MC, are included not only to reveal skin, lace and garters (which they do to great effect) and provide a lively entertainment, but also to underline the issues and help the storyline progress.

For example, when Schneider decides not to marry Ludwig after learning he is Jewish, the musical number that mirrors this painful decision has Samples parading around stage in love with a gorilla dressed as a girl, exclaiming, “If you could see her through my eyes, you would love her too.”

Another clear example is “Money, Money,” in which the harem-dressed, clinking Kit Kat girls sing about how “Money makes the world go around,” reflecting Bowles’ selfish desire for material things. Other classic numbers providing color to the night’s entertainment included the sassy and playful “Don’t Tell Momma,” the sultry, smoky “Mein Herr,” with its slow and subtly pulsating movements, and the frisky, flesh revealing “Two Ladies.”

Chico Cabaret’s tribute to its namesake, with a directorial debut by Jose Romero, is a vibrant rendition of the Broadway classic.