A&E | Northwest Herald

Review: ‘Cabaret’ musical enthralls at Metropolis in Arlington Heights

"Cabaret" at Metropolis in 2022.

Willkommen, bienvenue and welcome to “Cabaret,” the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre’s opening production for its 2022-23 season.

The legendary, Tony Award-winning Kander and Ebb 1966 musical is based on Anglo-American writer Christopher Isherwood’s “I Am Berlin” stories, and John Van Druten’s play, “I Am a Camera.” “Cabaret” unfolds a not-so-typical, boy-meets-girl story. Set during the dark, complicated, ominous world of 1929 Berlin, American novelist Cliff Bradshaw encounters British nightclub singer Sally Bowles at the avant-garde, increasingly sordid Kit Kat Klub on New Year’s Eve. The wry commentary of the club’s master of ceremonies steers us through the mounting fear and chaos of an emerging Third Reich, and the doomed romance of German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider and her suitor, Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz.

"Cabaret" at Metropolis in 2022.

Director Robbie Simpson’s vibrancy and creativity evolve throughout this powerful production; there is an evident focus on personal relationships, political loyalty and survival during a historically changing time. A live, nine-piece orchestra conducted by Jake Hartge is onstage, and provides the energetic invitation to the ensemble’s engaging singing and dancing.

Jenilee Houghton’s choreography is sharp, refreshing, humorous, seductive and always electrifying, whether it’s a Charleston or in-sync goose step. Eric Luchen’s scenic design may be utilitarian, but it works extremely well on the Metropolis stage with a series of showbiz-lit steps, nightclub tables with era lamps and phones, and three doors with brick panels signifying the boarding house. Samantha Sharp’s costumes are a true visual treat, encompassing burlesque and all the Art Deco glitz and glamour of the late 1920s.

The nine-member Kit Kat ensemble is an eclectic mix – all attractive, bawdy, decadent and extremely talented with distinctive personalities. The performers are Brandon Acosta, Angel Diaz, Morgan DiFonzo, Amber Parker, Olivia Pryor, Annika Andersson, Lizzie Mowry, Kaity Paschetto and Melody Rowland.

There are some additional very strong supporting cast members helping to weave the plot. Melissa Crabtree’s Fräulein Kost is a quick-witted, kind, spunky hooker who favors sailors, but morphs into someone quite unlikeable with her frightening rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Daniel Leahy is a wonderful Ernst Ludwig, the affable German who helps Cliff get established, but then later shows his true colors at an engagement party that turns into something sinister. His accent and manners are impeccable. Dryden Zurawski fills in multiple roles – from Max, the nightclub owner, to various customs officials.

You will fall in love with Anthony Whitaker’s Herr Schultz, the Jewish fruit vendor who is naive about the political situation, “It will pass. I understand the Germans – I am German!” Whitaker can sing, delightfully so in the very touching “Married” and in the duet “It Couldn’t Please Me More” with Fräulein Schneider, played by Rosalind Hurwitz. Together, they have an emotional chemistry and sweetness. Hurwitz’s Schneider is a practical and loving but critical character who is resigned to being a solitary landlady. Her “What Would You Do?” is another heart tugger.

"Cabaret" at Metropolis in 2022.

Hoffman Estates’ Tim Foszcz makes his Metropolis debut as struggling American novelist Clifford Bradshaw. He sings well and believably shows us his character’s intelligence and journey with politics and sexuality. He is a potent actor; I truly believed he was intrigued by Sally and loved her. Foszcz’s character represents the American who could no longer sit by with the Nazi rise; his telling Sally, “Wake up. The party’s over – if you’re not against it, you’re for it” sadly falls on deaf ears.

In a departure from typical casting, Maria Alexandra is the Kit Kat emcee. Besides being an exquisite singer, Alexandra is the exact right amount of saucy confidence, playfulness and complexity needed to be comfortable interacting with the audience while maintaining a flamboyant likability.

"Cabaret" at Metropolis in 2022.

As Sally Bowles, Kristin Doty first wins the audience over as she Charlestons along with the Kit Kat Girls in baby-doll outfits and lollipops in the song “Don’t Tell Mama.” Doty also touches hearts and passions with her renditions of “Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret”; with top hat and cane, she is again a powerhouse with “Mein Herr.” Doty portrays Sally as liberal, quirky, reckless and vulnerable in her oblivious dealing with her past and recognition of the world caving in around her.

When “Cabaret” opened on Broadway in 1966, it ran for 1,165 performances; it was directed by the famed Harold Prince during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. The musical continues to be revived, with the most recent successfully occurring in London this year (with Eddie Redmayne as emcee), and perhaps is most recognizable as the Liza Minnelli-Joel Grey-Bob Fosse film.

As the Metropolis director states, “Cabaret” is “more relevant than ever.” Hoping that the production will delight and entertain, Simpson says he also hopes it makes “the audience remember that although we may not think or look the same, we have much more in common with one another than divides us.”

Come to the cabaret.

• Regina Belt-Daniels began her love affair with the musical “Cabaret” thanks to Sister Philip Thacker, who allowed her to sing the entire theme song in a high school talent show. Since then, Belt-Daniels has gone on to produce, direct, act, teach, serve on theater boards and travel, because “life is a cabaret.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: “Cabaret”

WHERE: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights

WHEN: Through Oct. 22; recommended for ages 13 and older

COST: $45

INFORMATION: 847-577-2121, metropolisarts.com