They're iconic images, Liza Minnelli's indelible Sally Bowles and Joel Grey's ghoulish Emcee from the 1972 film version of "Cabaret." But before the screen adaptation came the stage musical, which was based on a play derived from Christopher Isherwood's "The Berlin Stories."
Then, in 1993, Sam Mendes mounted a striking revival at London's Donmar Warehouse, which eventually transferred to Broadway years later and set up shop at the equally iconic Studio 54, featuring Rob Marshall's ingenious choreography. It's that slightly revised work that directors Christina A. Coakley and Michael Innocenti currently conjure up at the Keegan Theatre on Church Street.
Their Kit Kat Klub is still the same seedy, desperately dingy dive we all know, a decadent nightclub exposing the underbelly of 1930s Berlin on the eve of the Nazi regime's imminent rise to power. Weaving an international love story with the saga of everyday Berliners caught up in the dark realities of German nationalism, Joe Masteroff's book chronicles the difficult personal choices made in a country on the brink of war.
One of the finest musicals ever written, "Cabaret" appeals to die-hard theater fans and novices alike -- no one can resist the siren beckoning us to come hear the music play, and here, Coakley and Innocenti focus on astute acting and clever stagecraft to deliver an interesting, if not wholly satisfying, production.
» Where: The Keegan Theatre, 1742 Church St. NW
» When: Through March 2
» Info: $35 to $40; 703-892-0202; keegantheatre.com
Everyone certainly looks their part, all silk and sweat and worn-out lace, a heap of droll debauchery with fistfuls of flesh on display in Shadia Hafiz's period-appropriate costumes. Together, the entire cast works to create alluring stage pictures, but beyond its titillating aesthetics, musically this "Cabaret" does not comprise remarkable singers.
However, what it seems to lack in vocal power, this ensemble more than makes up for with a string of witty and authentic performances, from Bradley Foster Smith's earnest portrayal of Cliff, the naive American writer who falls for Maria Rizzo's flighty cabaret singer, to Jane Petkofsky's petrified Fraulein Schneider and Stan Shulman's veracious turn as Herr Schultz. Other standout talents include the interchangeable pair of Victor and Bobby (Ryan Patrick Welsh and Matthew Rubbelke, respectively).
Rizzo's Sally is all childlike ego and wanton self-loathing, but it's a very affected performance, similar to Paul Scanlan's vocally delicious Emcee. Scanlan's youthful host lounges somewhere between a menacing scowl and mirthful jester, never constructing a complete characterization.