The last time “Cabaret” toured though Chicago, the musical about a Berlin nightclub and the many quirky characters that pass through its transient tables just prior to the rise of the Nazi Party was accompanied by an increased sense of hyper-sexual shock factor. Though the Theatre At The Center’s month-long production is recommended for guests over 14-years-old, the free-flowing experimentations of those who perform and populate the Kit Kat Klub (hosted by Sean Fortunato as the curiosity-provoking Emcee) never overpower the cast’s commitment to tracking a close-knit group of friends trying to make sense of an increasingly conflicted society.
“Cabaret” certainly has a vibrant score, swinging orchestra and glitzy staging during the showroom segments, though the serious side is likely to be just as effective and lasting for audiences (such as those who greeted opening night with a standing ovation).
For fabulous singer Sally Bowles (played by expansive vocalist Danni Smith), life is basically a revolving door of gin and men, but for her first actual love interest Cliff Bradshaw (the well-matched Patrick Tierney), it’s all about finding inspiration for his next American novel. At first, their mutual friend Ernst (Christopher Davis) seems like a real prize trying to help the pair of more than pals make some fast money, but at an engagement party for their landlord Fraulein Schneider (Iris Lieberman) and nearby fruit shop owner Herr Schultz (Craig Spidle), the sudden exposure of his true colors essentially ruin the occasion.
In a matter of moments, the carefree “Cabaret” lifestyle is marred by a looming sense of evil, which Cliff and Fraulein Schneider instantly understand, but one Sally and Herr Schultz refuse to accept. Complicating matters is a possible pregnancy for the younger couple, Cliff’s suggestion that Sally return home with him to escape the impending regime, alongside shocking revelations relating to others’ assumed heritage compared to their actual backgrounds.
There are a handful of flashy dance numbers and bits of intermediary comic relief (such as the silly “Two Ladies” or the greed-centered “The Money Song”), but there’s also Sally’s heart-wrenching delivery of the ballad “Maybe This Time.” In fact, it’s that very star who sends her portion of the show home with the bang of the title track, putting a wide-ranged spin on the selection that also was a stand-alone smash for the movie’s main lady Liza Minnelli.
“Cabaret” certainly has a vibrant score, swinging orchestra and glitzy staging during the showroom segments, though the serious side is likely to be just as effective and lasting for audiences (such as those who greeted opening night with a standing ovation). No, it’s not for kids, but Theatre At The Center is tactful with its presentation of the rougher edges without ever watering down the core message about standing up in the face of injustice and urging everyone to accept differences of any stripe.
“Cabaret” continues at the Theatre At The Center through June 4. For additional details, visit TheatreAtTheCenter.com.