Monday, September 19, 2005


Between 1929 and 1933, Christopher Isherwood lived in Berlin, which formed the backdrop for stories he wrote on his return to London, published as “The Berlin Stories.”  One such story, that of writer Clifford Bradshaw and cabaret singer Sally Bowles was dramatized by John Van Druten as the play, “I am a Camera” (later made into a movie). 

In 1966, John Kander and Fred Ebb won a Tony with their musical version, which they called “Cabaret.”  The musical, of course, was made into a very popular film vehicle for Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray in 1972. 

In 1993, director Sam Mendes revived the Kander and Ebb musical for his cabaret theater and gave it a darker, harder edge, emphasizing the decadence of the period.  By the time the show moved to Broadway, where it enjoyed another successful run, the production, while still maintaining the darker feel, had lost a bit of the “edge” that it had in the smaller venue.  The tunes were so familiar to the American public that it was difficult to keep them down for two hours.

The Davis Musical Theater Company opened its 2005-2006 season with the Kander and Ebb version of “Cabaret” this weekend.  It was to have been a gala opening at the new Hoblit Theater on Pena Drive, but again there have been delays, and Cabaret opened once again at the Varsity Theater.

Set in Berlin in 1930, just before the Nazis come to power, the action takes place at the Kit Kat Club, a seedy nightclub where one goes to escape the reality of life.  “Leave your troubles outside,” invites the Emcee (Ryan Adame).

While not actually a part of the story itself, the Master of Ceremonies (“Emcee”) is the unifying character that brings all of the action together and Ryan Adame is perfect in the role.  With a garish white clown-ish face and lascivious manner, he commands attention.

Cliff Bradshaw is played by Ryan Favorite, last seen as Lun Tha in “The King and I.”  While we caught a hint of Favorite’s talent in “The King and I,” he really gets to shine in “Cabaret.”  The character of Cliff has gone through many permutations over the history of this story, being heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, depending on the particular version or the decision of the director.  Director Steve Isaacson’s Cliff is unquestionably heterosexual and the chemistry between himself and Sally Bowles (Jessica Hammon) is real and believable.

Hammon is a bubbly Sally Bowles with a huge smile.  Her British accent isn’t always spot-on, but she inhabits the character and has a terrific voice, especially when belting out the title song.  She needs to learn about stepping into the spotlight, however, as half of her big number was sung with her face in shadows.

DMTC veteran Mary Young delivers the kind of performance we have come to expect from her as Fraulein Schneider, who runs the boarding house where Cliff takes up residence.  Frau Schneider has a larger role to play in the stage version of this story and her romance with her boarder, Herr Schultz (William Hedge) is very tender, especially in their lovely duet, “Married.”

Hedge is making his DMTC debut, and is very good as the old Jewish greengrocer whose heart is given to his landlady.  He gives special bits of fruit as if they were diamonds.

Heather Sheridan, the boarder who has a lot of “gentleman callers” has some projection problems, but otherwise does a good job.

Michael Manly, in his return to DMTC after a 9 year absence, is quite good as Ernst Ludwig, the German smuggler who befriends Clifford.

Wendy Young makes a fetching Gorilla (in “If you could see her through my eyes”) and Robert Coverdell sings a smashing rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” the bone-chilling song that epitomizes the rise of the Nazi Party.

Michael Miiler is the choreographer for this show, with lighting design by Isaacson and Dannette Vassar.

Jeannie Henderson did her usual outstanding job of costume design.  The gown for Sally’s closing number was spectacular.

Cabaret is an entertaining evening of theater which, everyone hopes, is REALLY the final DMTC show to be presented on the Varsity Theater stage.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Best of Broadway

If “Best of Broadway” (which opened in Sacramento at Luther Burbank School) were to hand out “the show must go on” awards, I would nominate Lou Parell in a heartbeat.

It was Act 2. We had already watched a rousing opening number, “Happy,” from “Grand Hotel” and a section called “Broadway’s Latin Suite,” a salute to Latin music in Broadway musicals.

The tone changed and a section featuring songs from “Napoleon” began. Lou Parell had just stepped into a pool of light, dressed as Napoleon, and he began the dramatic, “The Dream Within,” when pinpoint lights started flashing on the walls around the house and an obnoxious honking sound began going on and off.

At first we weren’t sure if it was part of the show or not, this being such a varied show with all sorts of different moods, but then someone said something about a fire alarm and ushers were coming down the aisle telling us we had to evacuate the building. Parell sang through it all, to the end of his song, even though the theater was empty.

While we milled around outside, someone told me that the rumor was that either one of the children in the cast had pulled the fire alarm in the bathroom, or the stage smoke had set it off (though I didn’t notice much stage smoke). Some members of the cast, still dressed in zoot suits from the Latin suite, were standing on the sidewalk yelling “Don’t leave! There will be more!”

Twenty minutes and three fire engines later, we were back inside the theater watching Parell pick up where he left off, in a touching duet with Marji DuBois while Jen Kern and Gerardo Martinez performed a dance duet.

This had been an evening already plagued with microphone problems. Marlee Hernandez, who started out beautifully in “Teenager in Love” from “Return to the Forbidden Planet” lost the sound in her mic shortly into her number, which was a shame, since she had a lovely voice (displayed in the opening number, “My Night” from “Closer to Heaven.”)

Likewise several children who had solos in “I Know” from “Children’s Letters to God,” the rousing first Act finale were unable to be heard because one of the four microphones was dead, which must have disappointed the audience full of family and friends. Other microphones popped and sizzled throughout much of the show.

Despite the problems, however, Best of Broadway, in this year’s extravaganza, “Light Up the Night,” has delivered another enjoyable evening showcasing some of the finest talent Sacramento has to offer.

Best of Broadway was an idea conceived by David L. MacDonald in 1973 as a way to raise money for a local boys’ home. Thirty-three years later it is still under the direction of MacDonald and still raising funds for local charities.

After 33 years, this may not exactly be the “best” of Broadway (with obscure musicals such as “Closer to Heaven,” “Down River,” “The Card,” “Feel It,” “Children’s Letters to God,” and the aforementioned “Napoleon” (which opened in 2000 in London to mostly negative reviews and closed after 16 weeks), among the old favorites like “West Side Story” and “South Pacific,” but it was an extravaganza nonetheless.

Choreographers Terri Taylor-Solario, Diana Ruslin and Kat Bahry have done an outstanding job of blending dancers with non-dancers and having all look spectacular. Bahry, who was able to get some 75 children to perform such complicated synchronized dances, deserves special kudos.

Musical director Dan Pool, choral director Aaron Clemens and children’s choral director Enrique Ruiz deserve credit for the enthusiastic musical performances.

Sign language interpreters Cristie Pell and Kathy Jackson gave their own performance, nearly as entertaining as what was going on on stage.

This was an edgier “Best of Broadway.” Gone are the sequins and glitter and in their place are costumes (coordinated by Cathy Carpenter and Joan Pohlman) which look like they may have come from Britney Spears’ discard bin. Lots of cut-off jeans, bare midriffs, net stockings with holes in them, tattoos, and leather, all of which worked well for the salute to “We Will Rock You,” with the outstanding “We are the Champions,” led by the powerful Dewight Mitchell.

As the cast assembled on the stage and in the aisles to perform the finale, “Give My Regards to Broadway,” from “George M,” I wondered what George M. Cohan would have thought of the look of inner city urban blight, and decided that given the enthusiasm of the performances, he would have loved it.

Best of Broadway continues through October 1, with a 7:30 curtain. Even with a fire drill and 50 musical numbers, you’ll be out by 10:30.