I’m continually being blown away by the high level productions that have been occurring on Bay Area stages.
I’ve put off seeing SF Performances’ Cabaret as it’s a story I’ve seen many times, including the movie version of the non-musical play I Am a Camera and of course Liza Minnelli’s Oscar winning film, which has more Academy Awards than any other movie that did not win Best Picture.
So how can San Francisco put their own spin on it and make it worthwhile? Director Susi Damilano and choreographer Nicole Helfer have performed a miracle with this production: they made it fresh and topical and yet used source material from 1939.
The story of Cabaret is a familiar one. Young man (Atticus Shaindlin) arrives in Germany and is soon captivated by the free-spirited Sally Bowles (Cate Hayman) and her somewhat seedy life at the Cabaret and its MC (John Paul Gonzalez).
Depending on when you may have seen this show, you may have had more John Kander/Fred Ebb songs than you can handle. The movie musical version was turned into a star vehicle for Minnelli, having some songs edited from the stage version and others added to showcase her talent.
This Cabaret has keep Hayman’s character more of an ensemble actor like other live performances but still maintains some of those songs introduced in Minnelli’s version such as “Maybe This Time” and “Mein Herr.”
As Sally Bowles, Hayman makes the character her own – adding a touch of class among her commoner demeanor. She doesn’t have the big belting tones of Minnelli, but she’s a wonderful singer and great interpreter of the lyrics – Kander and Ebb would be proud.
Gonzalez as the Master of Ceremonies is truly sublime. His stage presence is captivating and he truly seems to have fun in the role. One thing an audience might not consciously be aware of is breathing and singing. Gonzalez does many songs that require precision and quite a work out. To be able to sing and not lose strength in your voice is quite impressive.
I could go on about the universally wonderful cast and the amazing set design by Jacquelyn Scott and lighting by Abra Berman, but the show is truly elevated due to Damilano and Helfer.
Helfer’s choreography not only pay tribute to Bob Fosse, but it is complex and fresh and perfectly timed and executed well. Then there’s Damiano’s direction. Her eye to detail is one thing – but for her to mix in a topical taste of the current political climate with an ending that is thought-provoking and surprising (considering this show has been done many times) is surprising and brilliant itself.
I came to the cabaret a tad late as this show has been running for weeks, so you shouldn’t delay as it closes Sept. 14, 2019.
Get tickets and information at www.sfplayhouse.org.