Set in 1931 Berlin, the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret tells the story of American writer Cliff Bradshaw who falls in love with English cabaret performer Sally Bowles amidst the rise of the Nazi Party in the Weimar Republic. The show is perhaps best known from the 1972 film adaptation starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, but I was happy to see Reston Community Players produce the 1998 version that includes songs from both the original Broadway production and those created specifically for the film.
Sally Bowles is played by Claire Jeffrey as a charismatic but flippant nightclub singer who moves from lover to lover with no commitment until she meets Clifford Bradshaw, played by Joshua Nettinga. Jeffrey’s performance of “Maybe This Time” was one of my favorites of the night — showing the shift in Sally’s world and motivations as she can finally imagine a happy ending with someone else. Clifford remains on stage and is also seen quietly imagining new possibilities — the staging works very well
The most anticipated number of the night is “Life Is a Cabaret,” a song that is frequently covered in musical theater revues and by solo artists but takes on a very different meaning within the context of the story. The music begins shortly after Sally Bowles experiences a major loss, but the show (and life) must go on. Claire Jeffrey’s vocals are strong but her acting is what really shines in this moment. The jarring lighting design by Andrew Dodge creates a clear division between Sally’s nightclub performance and her inner monologue.
The performers of the Kit Kat Club are working overtime in their dance numbers and multiple ensemble roles. My favorite nightclub number is “Mein Herr” featuring Sally and the Kit Kat Club Girls: Alicia Zheng, Kamila Adamczyk, Kendall Mostafavi, Victoria Jungck, Kourtney Moriarty, and Molly Atwater-Pulisic with choreography by Duane Monahan and Catherine Oh. The song was originally a replacement for “Don’t Tell Mama” in the 1973 film, but this production thankfully includes both. The ladies perform the impressive chair choreography while singing at an ever-increasing tempo — the number is bawdy and really hits the mark.
The Emcee is both narrator and commentator on the story, leading iconic musical numbers within the Kit Kat Club and frequently breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience. Evan Zimmerman’s portrayal is very reminiscent of Tony Award winner Alan Cumming — full of humor and unexpected turns. Zimmerman gives a very strong performance in his acting, singing, and dancing.
Standout performances come from the supporting cast — Ernst Ludwig (Matthew Scarborough), Fraulein Schneider (Liz Weber), and Herr Schultz (Dave Moretti). The audience has the benefit of knowing what happens in the years following the 1930s and World War II, but the characters in this story are still recovering from World War I, dramatic inflation, and economic depression. These three characters in particular have very different visions of the future and each performer demonstrates the nuances very well. Matthew Scarborough as Ernst Ludwig oozes charm and confidence as he quickly befriends Clifford at the beginning of the story. His jovial and friendly demeanor is in stark contrast to his political alignment, eliciting audible gasps from the audience when his affiliation is revealed.
Liz Weber as widow Fraulein Schneider is a tour de force. Her character is rooted in survival and Weber showcases a full range of emotion, particularly in the song “What Would You Do?” in Act II. She recounts her hardships and utter lack of options as to how to proceed in her circumstances. It’s a stark contrast to her flirtatious and hopeful interactions with Herr Schultz, the German Jewish fruit vendor played by Dave Moretti. Moretti is a delight, bringing bursts of light through his smile and optimism. Moretti and Weber are a wonderful match on stage, and their adoration for one another is palpable. The fate of Herr Schultz and other Jewish citizens as well as homosexuals and non-Aryan Germans is shown in the devastating finale, made all the more maddening by the relevance to today’s lawmakers and their crusade against anyone not like them.
Other noteworthy performances include Kourtney Moriarty as Fraulein Kost. Moriarty’s vocals in “Married” with Moretti and Weber are beautiful and add a haunting dimension to the couple’s doomed love story. Kendall Mostafavi as the Gorilla in “If You Could See Her” with the Emcee is both graceful and comedic as she dances in a full-body gorilla suit and dress.
The beautiful orchestra led by Music Director Scott Richards transported the audience straight into the Kit Kat Club with their expert musicianship. The set by Maggie Modig is well-designed and allows for seamless transitions and steady pacing. Director Duane Monahan utilizes the various levels of stairs and platforms so that additional vocalists and onlookers can be included without upstaging others. The dialects were outstanding, especially from Matt Scarborough and Liz Weber — kudos to German language coaches Andrea Burmeister and Liz Colandene.
Reston Community Players has a powerful and entertaining production — one that will move audiences to ponder long after the curtain falls.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, including one intermission.
Cabaret plays through May 14, 2023, presented by Reston Community Players performing at Reston Community Center’s CenterStage, 2310 Colts Neck Road in Reston, VA. For tickets ($25–$30), contact the box office at 703-476-4500 x38 or purchase online. CenterStage is accessible and offers listening devices for the hearing impaired.
The program for Cabaret is online here.
COVID Safety: RCP requires that all ticketed patrons wear a mask inside the theater. RCP’s complete COVID-19 policies and protocols are here.