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THEATER REVIEW: "Cabaret"

“The girls are beautiful, the boys are beautiful – even the orchestra is beautiful,” says the androgynous-looking Emcee (Jeffrey Scott Parsons), by way of introduction to denizens of Berlin’s seedy Kit Kat Club. And in decadent pre-war Berlin, customers come in, hoping that a few hours of drinking and dancing girls in skimpy costumes will make things all right, at least for a few hours.

But inescapable menace is never far away in Welk Resorts Theatre’s solid, sexy production of Kander and Ebb’s classic musical “Cabaret.”

If Parsons comes on a bit strong at the top of the show and flirts with crossing the line later, well, the Emcee’s part, like the club itself, invites excess.

The year is 1931 and the plot (based on John Van Druten’s play “I Am A Camera” and Christopher Isherwood’s novel “Goodbye to Berlin”) has American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (Eric Hellmers) in Berlin looking for writing inspiration. He is first befriended by the solicitous Ernst (a convincing and a little scary Michael Kelly), who turns out later to be a Nazi.

Cliff ends up (for a time, anyway) with the Kit Kat’s headliner, British chanteuse Sally Bowles (Ashlee Espinosa), whose drug of choice is gin. Both are fine singing actors. They plays Cliff and Sally without much chemistry, but it works for me because I’ve always believed Sally to be playing Cliff the way she plays every other man who walks into the club.

The real romance in this production is the late-September relationship between boarding-house owner Frau Schneider (Susan E.V. Boland) and Jewish fruit importer Herr Schultz (David Allen Jones). These two are utterly convincing, and Boland’s rendition of “What Would You Do?” (sung as the political atmosphere gets more ominous) is heartbreaking.

The Kit Kat girls are terrific (especially at conveying that pre-war “who cares?” attitude, and Justin Gray’s five-member band is loud and brassy, as if to drown out the world.

Production values are high as well. Doug Davis’ set design works well, Janet Pitcher’s costumes, shall we say, atmospheric. Special kudos to Jennifer Edwards and Patrick Hoyny, whose lighting and sound are particularly integral, especially in the shocking final scene.

Director/choreographer Ray Limon pulls no punches: this is not a show for Grandma or the kiddies, but an excellent, stark, in-your-face portrayal of Berlin in that era.

The details

“Cabaret” plays through July 26, 2015 at Welk Resorts Theatre, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.

Showtimes are: Thursday and Saturday at 1 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 pm (preshow buffet available before most shows)

Tickets: (888) 802-7469 or HERE

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.