‘Cabaret’

Runs through November 15; tickets and info: 875-4367 or www.proartspacific.com

Seated in the tight, ascending rows of black canvas director’s chairs in the Steppingstone Playhouse, audience members await mostly in silence in the final moments before showtime. As the house lights fall, the superbly costumed geisha-maiden attending the corner concession stand quickly closes shop, and up strikes the ambient acoustics of live music—trumpeting, still hidden, from behind the curtain.

From the velvet divide, out pops a leather-sleeved arm—fingers writhing, beckoning come-hither. Thus, to the audience’s delighted squeals, is our wilkkommen to Cabaret.

Act One launches with the lively number “Wilkkommen,” through which we’re introduced to our insightful host for the evening, played by Tom Althouse, appositely named the Master of Ceremonies.

Wiry and wild-eyed, Althouse forgoes the ostentatious makeup his character is associated with (in other productions, and notably with the 1972 film version that earned Liza Minelli an Oscar for Best Actress and Best Director for Bob Fosse), and I’m thankful for it. His mischievous expressions are unmasked, and I can more readily appreciate the raw sparkle he infuses into the character.

Althouse is more than a host: he’s a guide that transcends the boundaries between the play’s four 1931 Berlin settings—the second-rate Kit Kat Klub, a railway carriage, a well-located boardinghouse and a Jewish-owned fruit shop—and it’s through him the audience discovers allusions to character development and the heavy Third Reich subtext, which won’t mature until later in the play.

The opening number also introduces us to the working boys and girls of the Kit Kat Klub (many of the women are real-life burlesque performers from Maui’s own Kit Kat Club Cabaret), who—though abundantly vivacious and enviously seductive—convey the sort of ho-hum laziness of their age-old occupation. Dressed in monochromatically cream-colored, period-styled lingerie, the girls communicate something that is strangely innocent, despite their numbers’ (and the show’s) ultra-provocative nature.

As entertaining as their commendably bold dancing might be, it’s not until the second song, “So What?”—the delightfully comedic introduction to boardinghouse owner Fraulein Schneider, and a continuation of our first-look at the character of American author, Cliff Bradshaw—does it become apparent that this Professional Artists of the Pacific LLC production is a theatrical treat not often found in the local scene.

As the judiciously hip, world-wise Schneider, Rose Roselinsky’s is a pitch-perfect powerhouse. Her inflections and gestures are so well-timed, I’m effortlessly drawn into her portrayal; it’s because of her that I first suspend my disbelief and am transported completely to Berlin’s heyday, on the cusp of the Nazis rise to power.

Dale Button is equally fantastic as Herr Schultz, the German-born but markedly Jewish fruit shop owner, and Schneider’s love interest. I’m tearfully lost in the pure adoration he paints on his face, as he patiently woos Schneider with oranges and an exotic pineapple. Together, Roselinsky and Button are a pairing whose talent makes ripe all the sweetness of their character’s late-in-life love.

But the primary romance in Cabaret circles around Bradshaw and the wistful, English bombshell, Sally Bowles. Perhaps it’s because he plays a writer and his cast bio first lists him as a physicist, but I find E. John Messersmith to be remarkably handsome, and though occasionally dry, an absolutely perfect fit as Bradshaw. His handsomeness is fortunate indeed as he’s paired with Lynnea Barry as Bowles—a flawless stunner who nails every note with her Broadway-worthy pipes and seems to emote the Bowles character from the very tips of her toes to the ends of every platinum lock.

Jonathan Lehman, helming his third production of Cabaret since 1976, again proves his directorial tenacity, and assembles a team that executes his vision impeccably. Also noteworthy are the play’s visual elements—the costuming in particular is both cleverly multi-purpose and surprisingly ever-changing. Shifts in the color palate—which transitions just before intermission, then powerfully in the second-half—provide strong parallels to the plot arc.

A few words to the wise for patrons: This is an 18-and-over show and does contain suggestive material throughout. Also, shell out the couple dollars extra for center-section seating. Otherwise, you’ll be regretfully out of view of the one of the show’s most substantiating features—the 6-piece orchestra.

Though hidden but for the first few moments, before the curtain parts, lead by keyboardist Marti Kluth, the band is as mesmerizing to watch as the cast members themselves. As they continue to play while you stand to applaud the finale, long after the characters have left the stage and the house lights again rise, you’ll be cheering just as much for their superb performance—one more first-rate element added to a show that has the whole kit kat and caboodle. Maui Time Weekly, Anu Yagi

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