Saturday, May 19, 2018

Cabaret—FUSE Theatre Ensemble—SE Portland




“…It was the Worst of Times”


     This classic musical has tunes by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff, and is based on Christopher Isherwood’s short novel, “Berlin Diaries,” and the play, “I Am A Camera,” by John Van Druten.  It is directed and designed by Rusty Tennant, musical direction by Matt Insley (also keyboard), and choreography by Kate Mura.  

     It is playing at the Funhouse Lounge, 2432 SE 11th Ave. (street parking only), through June 2nd.  This is part of the OUTwright Theatre Festival.  For more information, go to their site at www.boxofficetickets.com or rusty.fuse@gmail.com

     When down and out, what do you do, “put on a happy face.”  There was a definite glumness to Germany in the 1930’s, as their world was about to change forever.  And when the sense of Doom seemed eminent, there is only one thing to do, pretend everything is all right and dance, sing and be merry.  But can you really make “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”  Of course not.  But, until you’re discovered to be a fraud, might as well put on airs and treat Life like a giant Masquerade Ball, where everybody pretends to be something they’re not and you put your best mask on, and soar….

     The main body of action follows Cliff (Alec Cameron Lugo), a very naive American, wanting to write the great American novel, who lands in Berlin at the inopportune time that Hitler is moving into politics and the Nazis are beginning to strong-arm the German people, especially the Jewish population, into their own obscene brand of a totalitarian government.  But, being an innocent, a lamb in a wolf’s den, he is vulnerable which, for a budding writer, may be a good thing.
He connects with a young German “salesman,” Ernst (Michael J. Teufel), who desires to learn English, befriends him and introduces Cliff to life at the Kit Kat Club, a type of underground amusement parlor, where anything, and anyone, can be available, for a price.  The oily owner of the Club, Max, is bedding down with his star attraction, the alluring, Sally Bowles (Gwendolyn Duffy), a popular belter of racy tunes and maudlin lyrics.  But the one who runs the show, is the Emcee (Ernie Lijoi), the musical narrator/commentator of the Cabaret lifestyle, in which everyone has their roles to play.

     Cliff is housed into one of the boarding houses near the club, in which Sally Bowles is also a resident.  The owner of the establishment is the fastidious, Fraulein Schneider (Dmae Roberts), who has a romantic relationship with one of her boarders, a Jewish fruit vendor, the kindly, Herr Schultz (Glenn Williams).  Also, in residence, is the naughty, Fraulein Kost (Sara Fay Goldman), who has hot-and-cold running sailors in and out of her room.  Love will make its mark with the golden-agers, as well as with Cliff and Sally and, under normal circumstances, there would be happy endings. 

     But this is not the time nor place for that.  Smuggling, corruption, decadence, prejudice and cruelty are the orders of the day here.  Their world is held up to a mirror, broken several times in many places.  This mock world will trample the good, make demi-gods of the bad, and reflect the ugliness of a not-too-distant time and place of yesteryear.  And, perhaps, we should heed this warning nowadays, if we haven’t solved the mistakes of the past, we are bound to repeat them.  If we can’t work together, we are then doomed to fall separately.

     Although the play could be considered a bit of a downer story-wise, it does reflect well of a by-gone era.  And the songs from this musical are outstanding, both in writing and delivery.  The chorus numbers with the gals and guys are expertly delivered and well thought out by Mura. The Emcee (Lijoi) is a chameleon and is always outstanding in his numbers.  Duffy, as Sally, is amazing, as she is both very sexy and very sad at the same time.  And her final solo, “Cabaret,” is as chilling as it is heart-breaking, it raised the hairs on the back of my neck.  Hope to see more of her onstage. 

     Some top numbers were, “Don’t Tell Mama,” “Two Ladies,” “Sitting Pretty,” “If You Could See Her (the ape acrobatics are stunning)” and, of course, “Cabaret,” are painfully exciting.  The frightening but beautiful, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” by Goldman, is always a show-stopper.  And Roberts and Williams are touching as the doomed, old couple with their hopeful ballads in a forlorn setting.   Also, Lugo, as our hero, has the right, wide-eyed stare, like a deer caught in someone’s headlights, who will have his eyes opened but his heart broken.  Well done.

     Tennant has wisely set this story in a real-life bar and it works wonderfully in creating the proper mood for the story.  He has also, with Mura, used the tiny stage to great advantage, even bringing the action into the house at time.  And Insley and his band (Cameron Poehner and Andy Schanz) do justice to the rousing score without overpowering the actors. This is a raw show and does have some nudity in it.  I highly recommend it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.
--DJS

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