A powerful political story and a great Broadway score ensure that “Cabaret” will always be welcome on local stages. The Silhouette Stages’ production in Slayton House Theatre immerses the audience in circa-1931 Germany, as the bohemian nightlife of Weimar-era Berlin was about to give way to the brutal repression that followed Hitler’s political rise in 1932.
Although the ensemble for this show could be physically and vocally tighter in places, the production directed by Stephen Foreman generally does justice to this disturbing material. The music and incisive lyrics by Fred Ebb come across with visceral force.
The scenic design includes the addition of a thrust stage that literally projects the action closer to the audience. There are also a few tables and chairs that have been placed in front of the first row to give the sense of being in the Kit Kat Klub, where the story unfolds.
Patrons seated there are likely to be directly addressed by some of the performers who, to put it mildly, are not exactly shy about expressing themselves within this anything-goes nocturnal Berlin scene.
The best aspect of the set design by Foreman and Alex Porter, however, turns out to be the placement of the band along the entire width of an elevated platform at the back of the stage. Music director Michael Tan and his fellow musicians really get into the cabaret spirit, with stridently percussive playing that accompanies the uninhibited songs.
Based on a play by John van Druten that itself was derived from autobiographical stories by Christopher Isherwood, this landmark 1966 Broadway musical truly makes you feel as if you’re visiting a time and place where personal and political identities are dangerously in transition. Although “Cabaret” is as consistently entertaining as you would have the right to expect from its song-and-dance-and-comedy-routine-filled setting, its essential seriousness is always present.
Overseeing the club and freely commenting on the lifestyle choices is the boisterous emcee, here embodied by Tommy Malek in a playful manner that’s suitable for a Berlin subculture in which gender fluidity arguably was the norm. From the show-opening number “Willkommen,” Malek commands attention and maintains it all evening.
The star attraction at the club, Sally Bowles, actually isn’t such a big star. Instead, she’s a struggling young performer from England, who has yet to fully establish herself in Berlin. As Sally, Megan Mostow is persuasive in songs including “Don't Tell Mama” and, of course, “Cabaret.” Mostow tends to float in and out of her English accent, but it only slightly detracts from her performance.
The aspiring American novelist with whom Sally becomes romantically involved, Clifford Bradshaw, is played with endearing sincerity by Seth Fallon. Cliff is such a sweet and naive American tourist that the audience can’t help but worry about how he’ll fare in this unfamiliar cultural underground. Fallon and Mostow have a nice duet in “Perfectly Marvelous.”
The other notable romantic pairing in the story involves a kindhearted landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Pamela Northrup), and the equally kindhearted Jewish man with whom she falls in love, Herr Schultz (Christopher Kabara). The changing political climate is like a dark cloud over their relationship, and the final scenes between them really tug at the heart. Both actors give mostly secure performances but could do a bit more to bring out the pathos in characters who express themselves through old-fashioned formalities.
The numerous other actors in this generously populated show bring to life a society that is about to end for many of the characters.
“Cabaret” runs through June 2 at Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. Remaining performances are Saturday, May 25 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 26 at 3 p.m.; Friday, May 31 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, June 2 at 3 p.m. For ticket info, go to silhouettestages.com.