I thoroughly enjoyed The Tribe Productions’ play/musical “Cabaret.” It is at the Great Star Theatre in Chinatown, bordering North Beach. “Cabaret” could be seen as a forewarning in today’s political climate. It is set in a tawdry club and boarding house in Berlin from 1929 to 1930 during the early stages of Nazism. Berlin, at that time, enjoyed an anything-goes atmosphere much like 1920s America, with jazz clubs, emancipated women, sex, booze, and jazz. Based on a play by John Van Druten on stories by Christopher Isherwood, with music by John Kendar and lyrics by Fred Ebbs, this production’s book is by Joe Masteroff, directed by Christopher Chase. Actually, for remaining shows, the musical begins before you take your seats as you will discover on arrival.
After a confusing box office fiasco the night we went-which has since been cleared up, the production moves along to its poignant, sorrowful conclusion at a satisfying pace, even during sections of heavy dialogue, and ramps up in scenes of confrontation. Dustin Emery does excellent work as the American writer, Clifford Bradshaw, who comes to Berlin practically penniless. He meets a helpful, budding Nazi, Ernst (a subtly menacing Justin Taylor) on the train. The tide begins to turn when incipient Nazis sing their ominous haunting theme song, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Later, Ernst appears in total Nazi regalia to the shock and dismay of Bradshaw and others.
“Cabaret”‘s director, tall and lanky, Christopher Chase, in white-face, rouged cheeks, and red, red lips, is excellent as The Emcee (MC) of the Kit Kat Klub. He opens with the rousing “Willkommen” in many languages to his patrons. Sally Bowles. the role popularized by Jill Haworth on stage and in the film with Liza Minnelli, co-starring Joel Grey as the Emcee in each, is played by Tia Renee Konsur, a petite talent, with a slight zoftig figure. Her cheeky, soaring delivery of her solos, excellent voice, and physicality in her dance numbers fully realize her as the star. She has great range as evident in her final heartbreaking scene.
Other outstanding performances are John Hurst as Henry Shultz the hapless German-born, Jewish fruit store owner in love with Fraulein Schneider (noted novelist and actor Zia Westley, whose singing voice needs more projection, yet it doesn’t impact her spot-on acting). Their romance however is doomed. “Cabaret” enjoys a dedicated supporting cast in Kalla Tova as Helga Kost; Ari Lagomarsino, Rosie, Jonathan Lloyd as Max; Zanna Wei as Fritzi; Brandon Brooks, Victor; Jean-Paul Jones, Frenchie, the Transexual Kit Kat; and Emil Kistner as Lulu the Gypsy; and of special note is Casey Trujilllo as Bobby, the German Homosexual.
The funky Great Star Theatre, in Chinatown on Jackson off Columbus on the edge of North Beach, opened in 1925 for Chinese Opera and other such programs, proves to be the ideal venue for Cabaret Our seats at first were in a small area in the rear left where a distinct aroma of tobacco, stale urine, and burnt popcorn permeated the air, which suited the ambience of the play (which has been addressed by the Tribe staff); we moved our seats.
“Cabaret” runs through Sunday, January 21st. Get your tickets now as most dates have been sold out. Go to: http://www.greatstarsf.com for information and tickets.
(The historic Great Star Theatre runs a robust and diverse program of Chinese Opera, western musicals, circus, cabaret, and cinema. Go to- http://www.greatstarsf.com/about/- for more information. )