The bleak, dark musical Cabaret about the rise of the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany is one exciting and touching story, made more so at Richey Suncoast Theatre by a super-talented cast and Peter Nason's sharp direction.
The show opened Thursday and continues weekends through Oct. 2.
Nason, a longtime professional actor and director doing his first show at the New Port Richey theater, did a masterful job of casting, then kept his actors tight and focused through the mounting tensions of the play.
It's an excellent show overall, but worth the time and ticket price just to see the leering, mocking Chris Cavalier as the degenerate Emcee at Berlin's seedy Kit Kat Club. With consummate confidence, Cavalier's Emcee glides from ingratiating purr to nasty snarl to vicious, guttural growl, flicking his tongue at the scantily clad chorus girls as he calls them "cunning linguists" and bounding into the theater audience to confront and challenge as he sings a syrupy, cynical Wilkommen. (Hint: arrive early and get in your seat, or you might wind up the in the spotlight as the object of his scorn).
Cavalier's performance is enhanced by Marie Skelton and Mary Branham's excellent costumes, which, like his demeanor, become more degenerate and risque as the night wears on. Nason said earlier that he had spotted Cavalier's "built-in mischief" during auditions, and they both built on that to create an unforgettable character.
That high level of competence continues with a lovely Beth Phillips as a saucy Sally Bowles (she blows out the lightbulbs with her belting Cabaret); Keith Surplus, as the sexually conflicted writer Clifford Bradshaw; Anne Lakey, as the morally conflicted Fraulein Schneider; Chip Wichmanowski, as the gentle, naive Jew Herr Schultz; Star Verosic, as the angry, manipulative prostitute Fraulein Kost; and Michel Mekus and Christos Kostogiannes as two "pretty boys."
Ms. Lakey's plaintive What Would You Do? is heart-breaking, as she discards one closely held value after the other in her desperate hope just to survive. Schneider's stark look at reality contrasts with that of her fiance, Herr Schultz, who can't believe that his fellow Germans would harm him, that the persecution of Jews is a passing thing.
Ric Ratliff's devoted Nazi, Ernst Ludwig, is as naive about the "cause" as Herr Schultz, believing he is doing right by the Fatherland.
But Ms. Verosic's Fraulein Kost makes clear otherwise, as she spews hatred and prejudice.
Cabaret purists will note that director Nason tweaked the script a bit to emphasize certain points, but the impact is no less devastating. To his credit, he didn't pull back on the most shocking moments (as even some Broadway productions did) and he doesn't spare the audience the full implications of what happens when people keep thinking, as Sally and Herr Schultz do, that "it's just politics and won't touch us."
Joan Geschke's excellent six-piece orchestra is on stage, which heightens the feeling of being in a Berlin night spot. Marie Skelton's light design and Charlie Skelton's set design create the perfect mood for each scene and allow for smooth transitions through 19 scenes with hardly a moment's blackout.
The nine Kit Kat Club girls — Vicki Knapp, Joanne Donovan, Molly Laird, Katie Miesner, Ali Wichmanowski, Allison Iskowitz, Tracie Callahan, Dezzie Sala and Nola Patri — do choreographer Linda Hougland's steps right on cue and give an air of authenticity to the back-alley club. The ever-reliable Mark Lewis does a fine job in several roles, each one with its own personality.
Cabaret is set in the 1930s, but it has a frighteningly eerie feeling of contemporary times.