'Cabaret' is superb in the small theater

    You walk in and you’re there — a 1930s Berlin dance hall complete with bleeding black walls, distorting, bent mirrors and grotesquely made-up prostitutes looking for a piece of man to take away an instant of their hopeless drudgery with a lustful proposition. You take your seat, a maximum distance of perhaps 40 feet from the front of the stage and ask, “”How will a world-famous musical play in a space this tiny?”” To quote the gentleman sitting next to me, “”Quite well.””

    Courtesy of Ken Jacques Photography

    “”Cabaret,”” written by John Kander and Fred Ebb, and now playing at the North Coast Reparatory Theater in Solona Beach, is one of the most popular musicals of the century. Directed by Sean Murray, the musical is built on the decadence of 1930s Berlin and tells the story of American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (Greg Tankersley) and his romance with young Englishwoman Sally Bowles (K.B. Mercer) against the background of pre-World War II Germany. When the Nazi’s influence begins to grow, Cliff is forced to make some choices — about where his home is and determining who he can trust.

    Backing the two leads are supporting, principle characters Ernst Ludwig (Dennis J. Scott) and Fraulein Schnieder (Linda Libby). They are an older, wiser couple that contrasts, while paralleling, the love affair between Cliff and Sally. Libby’s performance is certainly noteworthy, since she not only fits her character perfectly in body and mind, but adds a delectable humane element to an at times hopelessly lost individual.

    Also worth mentioning is the fabulous omnipresent ensemble. An excellent theatrical technique of the show was the use of the sadly staring Kit Kat dancers listlessly watching the scenes of more direct importance to the plot roll by. By evoking the image of the city itself, namely the youth of Berlin, and watching and waiting with glazed-over stares, the scene sent chills down the spine. UCSD students Victor Ha and Patrick McNaughton round out an outstanding troupe of eight ensemble singers and dancers. Lizette Kent also plays a hell of a trombone.

    Courtesy of Ken Jacques Photography

    The musical is narrated, in a sense, by the master of ceremonies (Jeremiah Lorenz). Through the epic songs, “”Two Ladies,”” “”Money”” and “”I Don’t Care Much,”” the emcee evolves to represent the struggle and insanity that flooded Berlin in this time of evil-handed politics and civil unrest. Wonderfully performed on all counts, Lorenz captures the essence of each chapter of the onset of World War II — indifference, insane pleasure, acceptance and a most sincere, chilling fear. Lorenz achieves true theatrical perfection with his silent role during the child’s (Michael Cullen) song “”Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”” His physical presence and terrifying Gestapo boots shove the axe upon any remaining shred of hope that has lasted for peace and comfort for the world in 1930s.

    Noting the size of the North Coast Rep, how could they pull off a full-out musical — especially a show of such high repute? With the clever staging by director Sean Murray, the general, yet crisp set design by Marty Burnett, and the focuses of Lighting Design of La Jolla Playhouse veteran Mike Durst, the single-unit set of the NCR serves as a superb playing field for this titanic production.

    “”Come to the Cabaret old chum?”” — do, please do.

    “”Caberet”” will be playing Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. through April 23

    Visit the North Coast Reparatory Theater at http://ww.northcoastrep.org.

    Tickets are $27, $25 for students. Super saver Saturdays are $15 for everyone.

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