Oakland Tribune, December 8, 2005
Life is beautiful (and sleazy and naked!) in Shotgun's 'Cabaret'
-- By Chad Jones, STAFF WRITER
THIS IS DEFINITELY not "A Christmas Carol."
Berkeley's Shotgun Players are celebrating the holidays with bare bottoms and breasts, simulated sex and a veritable buffet of delicious decadence.
The company's production of "Cabaret" that opened last weekend at the Ashby Stage is, in a word, wild.
Because this is Shotgun and not your average community theater, director Russell Blackwood has full license to re-imagine the much-loved 1966 musical with all the flesh, blood and prurience that he (and the show) can handle.
Turns out the show, with a book by Joe Masteroff and a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb, can handle quite a lot.
The idea is that once you walk through the doors of the theater, you're in pre-Nazi Germany rife with lusty cabarets and rampant pansexuality. The Weimar Republic is in its last throes, and the Hitler onslaught is on the horizon. But first comes a last hurrah.
Wow, what a hurrah. Blackwood and choreographer Andrea Weber do their best to banish all traces of Bob Fosse, the director/choreographer whose stamp is so indelibly on the material after his 1972 movie version.
This is a fresh re-telling that doesn't quite match the power of Rob Marshall and Sam Mendes' 1998 Broadway revival, but when it comes to smutty extravagance, Shotgun far out paces Broadway.
What Blackwood's production lacks in vocal power it more than makes up for in energy, enthusiasm and sheer (adult) entertainment value.
The entire theater has been transformed into the Kit Kat Klub (set by Heather Basarab). The Kit Kat chorus girls in their stockings and lingerie (costumes by Valera Coble) are wandering through the audience. One even scoots her cold bottom across a row of patrons' laps.
At intermission, the show continues as audience members are invited to dance with the actors while the band (a quintet headed by co-musical director Dave Malloy on piano) plays Marlene Dietrich tunes.
As for the show itself, the best parts are the actual cabaret numbers performed by Sally Bowles (an adorable Kimberly Dooley), the Kit Kat girls and boys and the Emcee (a bald Clive Worsely gamely ignoring a hoarse throat at last Sunday's show).
The number "Sitting Pretty" becomes a topless chorus line for the Kit Kat girls — Davina Cohen, Nicole Julien, Maggie Kelley, Jessica Kitchens, Rami Margron and Rebecca Noon — and "Wilkommen" includes a "Moulin Rouge"-like entrance for Sally on a circular swing.
"Mein Herr" is brilliantly re-imagined with Sally singing from high atop dangerous-looking red pumps while the chorus girls are on their backs with their scissoring legs topped by outrageous and highly improbable shoes.
One of Blackwood's best ideas is to give the song "Maybe This Time" (written for the movie) to the Kit Kat girls — one of whom is nursing a black eye, another of whom is pregnant — rather than making it a solo lament for Sally.
The show's brief second act has always been its weakest, with only the title song (exuberantly performed by Dooley) adding some welcome zest. The drama is supposed to carry the story on its rapid slide into Nazi oppression, and for the most part it does.
This is thanks largely to strong performances by Mary Gibboney as Fraulein Schneider, an old maid running a boarding house, and Joe Roebuck as Herr Schultz, her Jewish fiance.
Cassidy Brown does what he can with the character of Clifford Bradshaw, the visiting American (and stand-in for Christopher Isherwood, whose "Berlin Stories" inspired the musical). The role is a cipher, but Brown works up some righteous outrage just before the Nazis turn him into a bloody pulp.
In another nice Blackwood touch, the Emcee comes out to clean up Clifford's blood with a mop that then becomes Sally's microphone for "Cabaret." During the song, the mop turns into a stand-in for a corpse named Elsie.
There are a few missteps in this 21/2-hour production, including some awkward staging here and there, but there's also an end-of-the-world gusto that feels exactly right for a vibrant musical about free-spirited decadence stamped out by violent fascism.