Perhaps surprisingly, the title song is not an anthem. It’s Sally Bowles’ (Brittany Leigh Glenn) stream-of-consciousness suicide note. As the music starts, Sally’s eyelids twitch open, as if snapping out of a dream. But she’s waking to a nightmare.
Channeling the demise of her friend Elsie — from pills and liquor — Sally pretends that life is a cabaret, but she can barely finish the song, so wrong has life gone.
Schenectady Light Opera Company last mounted “Cabaret” in 1992. Even more timely now, it’s led superbly by director Peter Caracappa, assistant director Mary Darcy, music director Daniel Galliher, choreographer Gregory Theodore Marsh and producer Patrick Reilly, all of whom are backed by a fine tech team with the same vision.
Add to their work the stellar efforts by an ensemble up to playing naughty in a Berlin nightclub in 1930s Weimar, Germany: There’s nothing these singers and dancers can’t do to help an audience forget what’s going on politically. Drink up. Call me for sex. Laugh! The brilliant opening to Act 2 alone shows how ably they handle Marsh’s inventive choreography.
Working from material by John Van Druten and Christopher Isherwood, librettist Joe Masteroff peoples the stage with earnest Germans who think that a dictatorship is impossible — Germans such as landlady Fraulein Schneider (Melissa Putterman Hoffman) and fruit seller Herr Schultz (Gary M. Hoffman); Nazis, like Ernst Ludwig (Nick Foster), ready for Hitler, sans Jews; Sally, a will-o-the-wisp looking for the next anodyne to some misery or other; and Clifford Bradshaw (James Alexander), an American outsider who can see what’s happening but who can only despair and flee to the temporary safety of Paris.
And the music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb! Oh, what irony they give to a waltz tempo, as in the cynical “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” “If You Could See Her” and “I Don’t Care Much.”
Save for an ending that lacks the wallop of other productions I’ve seen, this one is completely satisfying. Heather-Liz Copps does excellent double duty as Fritzie and Fraulein Kost. Melissa Hoffman could read the phone book and make it interesting, but she gets real words and tunes and breaks your heart every time. Gary Hoffman’s performance as Herr Schultz is as sweet as the pineapple he offers Miss Schneider. As the Nazi zealot, Foster both ingratiates and chills, in a spot-on accent. (Kudos to the language coach.) Though we’d like to hear a bit more singing from Alexander, there’s much satisfaction in a performance that moves easily from wide-eyed to sharp-eyed. His rage in Act 2 is palpable.
Sally, unfortunately, goes from bright-eyed to blind, and Glenn, too, creates a credible arc with stellar line readings and a pitch-perfect voice.
Finally, as the nightclub’s Emcee, Oliver Ord is spellbinding: the snake in the Garden, the Greek chorus, the playground bully, the secret admirer, the holy terror, the Id to our Ego, the Superman, the Everyman. If you buy a ticket on the stage, you may get more than you bargained for.
And I must mention the band, upstage, playing for all they’re worth (a lot!), with a special nod to James Haertel for his sax accompaniment of the sublime Glenn on “Maybe This Time.” Unforgettable, James.
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through Oct. 1
HOW MUCH: $28-$22
MORE INFO: 1-877-350-7378, or sloctheater.org