The North Carolina Theatre’s gala production of Cabaret, starring pop singer Deborah Gibson as late 1920s British nightclub singer Sally Bowles and featuring Robert Brill’s striking set and William Ivey Long’s stunning costumes from the show’s divinely decadent but much darker Tony Award®-winning 1998 Broadway revival, opened to a standing ovation last Saturday night. Gibson, who was a replacement Sally during 1998 Broadway revival, is in fine voice as she reprises her role as the scantily clad headliner at Berlin’s sleazy Kit Kat Klub.
Sally is an irrepressible and irresistible free spirit — a real It Girl — until her hedonistic lifestyle finally catches up to her. Gibson demonstrates Sally’s essential effervescence in her song-and-dance numbers, but she needs to put a little more pizzazz into Sally’s comic and dramatic scenes. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine why a bisexual novelist such as Clifford Bradshaw (Brian Duguay) would accept Sally’s impetuous invitation to shack up, let alone dream of marrying this soiled British dove.
Brian Duguay is impressive as Cliff, gingerly tiptoeing through the twin minefields of forbidden sex and aberrant politics in Berlin, circa 1929-30, just before Adolf Hitler’s bully boys seized power. Although she struggles some with her songs, Rebecca Hoodwin gives a moving performance as Cliff and Sally’s elderly German spinster landlady Fraulein Schneider, whose budding December-December love affair with Jewish fruit-store owner Herr Schultz (Kenny Morris) becomes an extremely dangerous liaison given the tenor of the times.
Kenny Morris is terrific as the charming but hopelessly naïve widower Herr Schultz, who is so emphatically pro German and that he simply cannot imagine a world in which his beloved Fatherland will persecute its loyal Jewish citizens to sentence them death simply because they are Jewish. Vinny Genna is suave and then scary as German businessman Ernst Ludwig, whose secret Nazi Party sympathies come as a shock to his friends; and Erin Maguire gives a tart performance as Fraulein Kost, the impertinent prostitute who invites her Johns—seemingly most of the sailors of the German navy—back to her room at Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, much to her landlady’s chagrin.
But it is Christopher Sloan who steals the show with his wonderfully wicked performance as the Master of Ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub. With a nod, and a wink, and an ever-present leer, the emcee invites North Carolina Theatre patrons to take a walk on the wild side—and not just the select few who paid $150 each to sit down front in the special Kit Kat Klub section.
Director Connie Shafer, choreographer Jennifer Werner, and musical director/conductor John O’Neill and the NCT orchestra all work their theatrical magic with Cabaret; and the creative contributions of technical director Matthew F. Lewandowski II, set supervisor Jimmy Little, lighting designer John Bartenstein, costumer Annie Bruskiewitz, wig designer Patti DelSordo, props master Bob Uzabel, and sound designer Jonathan Parke all help make Cabaret a real crowd pleaser.
The North Carolina Theatre presents Cabaret Tuesday-Friday, Feb. 28-March 3, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 4, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 5, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $23-$68-$150. NCT Box Office: 919/831-6950. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=2338. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068327/.