You can’t experience Moonbox’s stunning version of Kander & Ebb’s CABARET (@ BCA through April 29th) without thinking of the neo-nazis who marched in Charlottesville. The current president and his nationalist (that’s nazionalist auf Deutsch) followers are fanning the flames of white supremacy with every other tweet. CABARET was shocking in 1966 for its dark eroticism but director/choreographer Rachel Bertone creates a chilling resonance in the Moonbox production which is “take-your-breath-away” devastating.
Bertone’s juggernaut marries action and dance so seamlessly that the choreography becomes tactical in her taut reimagining of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories. Even ze costumes (Marian Bertone) and “zey are beautiful” reveal the storyline, to paraphrase the master of ceremonies.
A palpable desperation introduces the Moonbox version, as the emcee (a formidable, alarming Phil Tayler) enters, running, terrified (by what we don’t know), to find safety (perhaps) behind a jagged, distorted triangular door. Janie E. Howland’s off kilter sightlines for the Kit Kat Klub are repeated even in the kick line number. Every element of Bertone’s production suggests despair: It dogs the characters and we, watching, can’t shake it off.
Dan Rodriguez’ perceptive musical direction makes the wildly jazzy entr’acte overture pop and his singers make this CABARET downright unstoppable. Tayler’s frightening “Willkommen” sets the tone for the show. If you haven’t been shaken to your boots by the time “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” comes around again, then Dan Prior’s gorgeous tenor, soaring over Joy Clark and company’s horrifyingly affecting aryan anthem, will put you away.
Aimee Doherty makes Sally Bowles as tragic as any operatic heroine. Doherty shows Sally’s doubts and needs through the manic delivery of a lyric as well as through her canny portrayal of urgency. Jared Troilo, too, as her deluded promise of salvation, carries the weight of conflict on his shoulders. Maryann Zschau deftly delivers the conscience of the musical as the temporarily happy bride-to-be “of a certain age” when the Jewish greengrocer (Ray O’Hare) proposes. Can she marry him and risk certain arrest if the nationalists take over the government? Zschau’s “What Would You Do” is directed, of course, in this production, at us.
Two more performances must be noted: ASL interpreters Rachel Judson and Michael Herschberg bring grace and emotional intensity to the drama through their gestural sign language, depicting what is transpiring behind them on stage. Lucky me, I was seated near the section where they were signing. I could see them and the actors on stage, simultaneously. I don’t understand ASL, but their performances added immensely to my theatrical experience.
Bertone ramps up the energy for everyone on stage, especially in the production numbers: They’re erotic, still, but raw and macabre, with the dancers brazenly inviting us in to a sordid world where a president can grab a woman … by the crotch, perhaps? Most of Isherwood’s characters, like the greengrocer, think the nationalists will go away … that the “unpleasantness” against non-aryans “will pass.” Well, it didn’t then and it’s here now. And our very own supremacist wants immigrants from Norway, not Mexico. How did this happen?