Of all the gin joints in all Berlin

Posted on July 24, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun

How do you say “excellent” in German? The word, spoken with a thick Broadway accent, is “Cabaret,” the dazzling musical closing this weekend at Andrews Hall.

The venue is transformed into the Kit Kat Club, a seedy, bawdy, bi-sensual nightclub. In one of many of director Cat Austin’s masterful touches, the club’s tables, flirty patrons and all, project out onto the theatre floor, drawing in the audience.

A five-piece band is tucked in the rear, a fate not unwelcomed by some of the club’s clientele. Such is life in Berlin, circa 1931.

The stage proper becomes that of the club, where from his very first “Willkomen,” Robert Dornaus III, as the Emcee, exerts a sexy charisma. A cocky rooster among a flock of gaudy show hens, Dornaus brings a hint of menace to the role, which seems right for an anything-goes Berlin on the eve of Nazi domination.

Enter Abbey Lee as the club’s featured performer, the English girl Sally Bowles. Young but in no way naïve – her easy conquest of an American writer (Victor Moss) is the latest of many – Lee’s character fancies herself a star. She’s always on, always looking into a mirror that’s not there. Her breezy asides are as much a prop as the cigarettes she lights so dramatically.

As that romance plays out, so too does one between a German boarding house owner and a Jewish merchant. Kira Catanzaro is a delight as the spinster who allows herself a small measure of joy. She has a stirring solo, and shares two charming duets with Dan Monez.

(Full disclosure: Kira went to the audition to write a story for The Sun, and ended up getting the part. Read her story.)

Underlined by the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” sung by members of the Hitler Youth, and “If You Could See Her Now (The Gorilla Song),” Berlin, if not the world, is suddenly a place where no such romance is possible.

Sex, yes. Back the Kit Kat Club, the show’s showy numbers — “Mein Herr,” “Two Ladies” and “Money,” among others – keep the six dancers busy. Dressed, or rather half-dressed, in slightly tattered costumes, this fleshy bit of Germany has seen better days as well. Heavily made-up and weary of the world, these are not the kind of girls you’d bring home to mother, unless mother was well stocked with penicillin.

Jessica Salt plays two such roles. She is a shameless dancer, an avid collector of sailors, and has a delicious accent that is part Greta Garbo, part Dracula. Another major role, that of a German who takes the American to the club, is crisply played by Sean Gentry. Although it is he that comes to most symbolize the impending Nazi regime, Gentry keeps the character in human perspective.

The intricate choreography is by Staci Arriaga and it’s spot on. As characters, the girls may be going through the motions, but they do it flawlessly. Dornaus, groping and leering all the while, is right in synch as their ringleader.

The production ends with Lee’s version of “Cabaret.” Austin has chosen an interesting interpretation, one far from the full-on Minnelli barnburner. Instead, Lee, heartbroken, nowhere to turn but the spotlight, soul-searches through the lyrics before warming to their upbeat message. You’ll still sing it on the way to the car, but it will keep you thinking.

“Cabaret” continues Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 28. For tickets, contact the Sonoma Valley Box Office at 938-4626 x1