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Marriott's 'Cabaret' packs a dramatic punch

The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire faced a few dilemmas when it came to creating a new production of the sexually charged 1966 Broadway musical classic "Cabaret." There's the question of which licensed stage script by Joe Masteroff to use (the original or the '87 or '98 Broadway revivals), or whether to borrow other Kander and Ebb songs or visuals from Bob Fosse's eight-time Academy Award-winning 1972 film version.

But director David H. Bell has fashioned a strong "Cabaret" for the Marriott that skillfully navigates its own course as its characters get caught up in the dizzy hedonism of Weimar Republic Berlin just as the Nazis are coming to power. There is plenty of naughty and racy fun to be had in the Marriott's "Cabaret," even as it barrels to an emotionally devastating conclusion.

Bell was smart to focus mainly on the most recent "Cabaret" revival script since it's the most revealing, along with some additions from the original (particularly giving the American aspiring novelist Clifford Bradshaw the often cut solo "Why Should I Wake Up" and opting for the repeated dialogue finale). Bell, along with designers Nancy Missimi on costumes and Thomas M. Ryan on sets, also brought back a welcome amount of colorful glamour to the look of the production compared to the soon-to-be revived stripped-down 1998 Broadway version by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.

Framed by menacing catwalks from above, the Marriott's "Cabaret" performers give off the feeling of caged people trapped either willingly or by circumstances beyond their control. Matt Raftery's choreography is also much more inclusive with the male ensemble doing lots of heavy lifting alongside the women of the infamous "Kit Kat Klub" in big production numbers like "Don't Tell Mama" and "Mein Herr" (Raftery's staging of the unsettling comic number "If You Could See Her" is particularly amusing due to the primate prancing of Jonny Stein in a gorilla suit).

The performances are all-around excellent, with many notable standouts.

Patrick Sarb makes for an upstanding Cliff, even as his character struggles with his sexuality. Megan Sikora gives a devil-may-care turn as his pushy muse, the somewhat talented singer Sally Bowles who forces her way into his room (that Sikora's singing is not on a powerhouse par with another famous Sally Bowles, Liza Minnelli, probably has more to do with staying true to the character than the abilities of the performer).

As the secondary romantic couple of the aging innkeeper Fraulein Schneider and Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz, Annabel Armour and Craig Spidle give touching performances of people surprised to find love late in life.

As the ever-shifting Emcee, Stephen Schellhardt might not have been as commanding as I would have liked, though that might have been a consequence of having to perform the role in an in-the-round space. Still, Schellhardt is technically solid and appropriately menacing and lascivious when he should be.

So audiences who come to the Marriott's "Cabaret" shouldn't be disappointed. It's got all the raciness you'd expect, plus the poignant performances to make it truly upsetting by the end.