Examining the impact of the Nazi party on Berlin in the 1930s, Cabaret is a much loved musical with elements that are distinctly horrific. Nicely, in Cowardly Scarecrow Theatre Company’s current production, directors Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts highlight this fact by adding a decidedly Mary Shelley slant to If You Could See Her, one of the show’s most amusing, ultimately gut crushing numbers.
In keeping with that spirit, this show genuinely smashes expectations across the board. The naive protagonist Cliff, usually rendered as a bland collegiate soul, is given life and personality by Scott Sawa’s engaging portrayal here. He even gives this frequently colorless figure a sense of soft humor, allowing the show’s devastating ending to reflect not only the murderous intent of Hitler and his minions, but the loss of personal innocence, as well. Meanwhile, Anthony Whitaker not only sings the role of Herr Schultz with ecstatic sweetness, but gives him a delightfully romantic heart, as well, providing an endearing ingredient that other revivals have overlooked.
Of course, all of this would mean nothing without the perfect Sally Bowles and Caitlin Jackson is damn near that. Giving the character the expected oomph and sass, she also provides her with a lived in aura that makes her distinctly believable. Merging her natural sexiness with a sorrowful sense of humanity, she gifts audiences by revealing a character who is truly a victim of her own reckless desires, providing another contrast to Schultz, The Emcee (a fine Kevin Webb), Bobby (a joyful Josh Kemper) and the other members of the Kit Kat Club who are all finally victims of a sadistic regime. Jackson’s take on the title number, as well, is not only in earthy contrast to the assorted ingénues who usually brightly perform it, but a great indicator of the complicated emotional underpinnings of Bowles, as well.
The decision to stage this version in the upstairs bar at Chief O’Neill’s in Chicago is also a wise move, allowing audiences to revel in the atmosphere that is being skillfully created here. One can truly feel the punk energy in band member Aaron Smith’s rhythmic drumming and deliciously partake in the motivations behind every wicked arch in Sydney Genco’s seductive eyebrows as she happily manipulates as the determined, vengeful Kost.
Cabaret, which obviously comes highly recommended, runs through Friday October 25th at Chief O’Neill’s in Chicago. Tickets are available at https://cstccabaret.bpt.me/.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!