Just how far would you be willing to go in the name of theater: Dance in your undies? Dress in drag? Moon the audience? Slurp down a raw egg onstage?
The cast of "Cabaret" did all this and more in Friday's opening night performance at Steppingstone Playhouse - demonstrating the kind of dedication to the craft we've come to expect from Professional Artists of the Pacific LLC. Producers Jonathan Lehman and Doug Kendrick don't do anything halfway: they start with the very best team of professionals, and then bring the very best out of them.
"Cabaret" is set in 1931 Berlin, in the restless midst of undercurrents of the coming Nazi nightmare. It's a time of careless partying at dark places like the Kit Kat Klub, a hideout between worlds where the fantastic Master of Ceremonies (Tom Althouse) instructs you to leave your troubles outside because, "In here, life is beautiful!"
Professional Artists of the Pacific’s “Cabaret” stars Lynnea Barry and E. John Messersmith
"The girls are beautiful!" he leers - and indeed, they are. The Kit Kat Girls - Rosie (Karen Stavash), Lulu (Melanie Seeley), Texas (Lehua Simon), Frenchie (Sharleen Lagattuta), Fritzie (Ellen Peterson) und Helga (Jessica Dungans) - are sultry and sassy in not much more than ivory lace bras and knickers, fishnet stockings and heels (costumes designed by Kathleen Schulz). Choreographer Kalani Whitford shows off the girls' attributes in classic chair dances, kicklines and many a suggestive pose.
"Even the orchestra is beautiful!" Althouse whips back the curtain to reveal a glittering six-piece band: musical director Marti Kluth on keyboard, Peter Della Croce on percussion, Cody Sarmiento on trumpet, Stephen Rodrigues and Richard Tadaki on trombone, Alfred Wolf on tenor sax and Laura Bloom Farber on clarinet and accordion. The band's visibility throughout the play adds to the cabaret feel - as do the Kit Kat girls and boys lounging on either side of the gold proscenium arch.
The arch is part of the ingenious "stage within a stage" set by Caro Walker, which seamlessly weaves the infamous Steppingstone pole into a door frame. Tuxedoed waiters serve sparkling cider to guests at black lacquered caf tables in the front row. All we need is a thick cloud of cigarette smoke to really feel like we're there in Berlin.
"Cabaret," in association with Maui Academy of Performing Arts, runs through Nov. 15.
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays, with one 2 p.m. Saturday matinee on Nov. 14.
Tickets are $28 for reserved table seating (available only by phone), $25 for center section, and $22 for side section; available at the mall's Customer Service Desk or by calling 875-4367.
For more information, visit www.proartspacific.com. Due to strong sexual references, brief nudity and racy choreography, this show is not for children.
When young American writer Clifford Bradshaw (E. John Messersmith) arrives on a train (easily created with a line of chairs and a whistle), his new German buddy Ernst Ludwig (William Makozak) directs him to the club. Turns out the Kit Kat Boys are beautiful as well - Bobby (Caleb Rhodes), Victor (Rueben Carrion), Herman (James Natividad) and Hans (Bryan Hill, who also plays club owner Max). Many visitors prefer the boys, Cliff included -at least until the club's star performer Sally Bowles sweeps into his life.
The talented and gorgeous Lynnea Barry is a perfect Sally-veiling her pain and insecurities with a whirlwind of gin and parties, men and "Mein Herrs." Poor Cliff is no match for her fabulously persuasive qualities. "Distracting? No! Inspiring!" she insists as she takes over his apartment, and then his heart.
The boardinghouse is run by Fraulein Schneider (Rose Roselinsky), whose survivalist instincts are beginning to soften beneath a steady rain of fruitful offerings from Jewish vendor Herr Schultz (Dale Button). Button and Roselinsky are adorable together, especially in charming duets like "It Couldn't Please Me More," where he sweeps her off her feet with a pineapple in a paper bag.
Frau Schneider has some hilarious confrontations with her satin-robed tenant Fraulein Kost (Stavash), who is continually escorting various sailor "relatives" in and out of her room. Roselinsky nails the transition from landlady to lady friend beautifully, as she turns from screaming at Frau Kost to preening for her suitor.
But behind even the play's lightest moments, the uncomfortable presence of the M.C. reminds us that this is no ordinary, happily-ever-after musical. Waxed and lipsticked, clad in outfits ranging from a black leather trench coat with high laced boots for "Wilkkommen," to a long, form-fitting black dress with dangling earrings for the moody "I Don't Care Much," Althouse portrays the deterioration of both the M.C. and the entire "cabaret" admirably. By the second act, the strain is beginning to show in his character's jerky movements, the forced nature of his polished smile, the fear in his eyes.
It's a show that can't last - this fragile joy between the two pairs of lovers, this breathless glimpse of a life that could be fulfilling, happy even - and the subsequent crashing down is complete and spectacular.
Barry is magnificent in her final mocking "Cabaret" number, practically spitting the words out: "Life is a cabaret, old chum! Come to the cabaret!"
Once so gay and full of parties, Berlin quickly becomes a sinister place, as evidenced by the haunting reappearance of a Hitler youth (Gavin Selman) and cold, bluish lighting by lighting designer Bonnie Prucha.
Only Herr Schultz retains his optimism, saying innocently, "It will pass!"- all the more heartbreaking since we know he is the one who will pay the price of the madness.
"Cabaret," with book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, has all the elements of a classic Broadway musical. But it also has just enough edgy social commentary, often wrapped up in strange packages - like a gorilla costume -to make it a riveting and provocative experience. And with a cast of this caliber, you can be assured of getting your "Money, Money's" worth.