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Marriott’s 'Cabaret' Seduces and Challenges

Perhaps it’s pure coincidence that February 14 is smack dab in the middle of Marriott Theatre’s run of the classic John Kander/Fred Ebb musical “Cabaret".

Or maybe it’s pure genius.

Because this story of 1929 Berlin, chronicling the city’s hedonistic cabaret scene as a feel-great smokescreen for the Nazi party’s clandestine rise to power, is not just a powerful historical reminder. “Cabaret”’s nearly 50-year relevance is directly tied to its nightly challenge to patrons: When it comes to seduction, how far is too far?

While nothing contemporary compares to the evils of the Nazi Third Reich, it’s certainly curious that the Lincolnshire theater poses its “Cabaret” question during the same season excess and greed are examined (some may say glamorized) on the silver screen with “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “American Hustle," both vying for Oscar acclaim.

Director David H. Bell is a champion storyteller with this staging of American bisexual novelist Clifford Bradshaw’s immersion into Germany’s capital city debauchery, centered on the Kit Kat Klub.Patrick Sarb is terrific as Bradshaw, who finds himself fully enticed by secretive Nazi businessman Ernst Ludwig (Jameson Cooper) and third rate cabaret singer Sally Bowles (Megan Sikora).

The cabaret Emcee, wonderfully played by Stephen Schellhardt, erotically lures patrons into his world of seductive distraction. It’s brought to life by Thomas M. Ryan’s two-tiered, Jeff-worthy, wrought iron set, highlighted by a moving spiral staircase that allows some cast entrances and exits through the ceiling. The featuring of soulless mannequins in the balcony observing the goings-on below is the production’s ever-present reminder of the show’s timeless challenge.

As Bradshaw begins to awaken from his period of decadence and the willingness to make a quick buck with no questions asked, he’s confronted with his own and others’ various responses to questions of living and parenting in a world of hatred, genocide and looming war.

Perfect complements to the main plotline are the enthralling performances of Annabel Armour and Craig Spidle as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. The elderly couple tenderly examines whether a last chance at love is stronger than past patterned behavior or future uncertainty. Their proposal scene featuring the song “Married” is lovingly reminiscent of the “Dating is for Funerals” piece in “I Love You, Your Perfect, Now Change,” most recently performed at Marriott this past summer.

Noteworthy, too, is the performance of 2013 Jeff winner Christine Sherrill. Her portrayal of Fraulein Kost is extraordinary, with her rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” the production’s undeniable musical showstopper, closing out Act 1.

Finally, the work of Choreographer Matt Raftery in concert with that of Costume Designer Nancy Missimi cannot be overlooked. Both of these individuals are at the top of their professions in this, the perfect showcase for their tremendous talents.

To be sure, Bell paints his “Cabaret” with more than sufficient color spatter to entertain and seduce. But his appropriately grim canvas keeps enough gray omnipresent so even first-time observers of this musical remain ever-cognizant of the eerie backdrop.

And that’s important. Because if life really is a cabaret, old chum, do come to the cabaret. But know, too, when to leave.