Shakespeare wasn’t thinking Cabaret but got it half right when he suggested, “All’s well that ends well.”
In the case of the Sam Mendes conversion of the Kander-Ebb-Masteroff musical into an aptly sleazy and decadent Berlin at the dawn of Nazi genocide, all’s well that both starts and ends well. Not for the victims of Hitler’s holocaust, of course, but for the artistic unity that was missing from the Liza Minelli and Joel Grey movie.
It helps immensely that the Roundabout Theatre Company brought a Sally Bowles named Andrea Goss, a gamin sprite, who goes from manic perkiness to beaten despair with constant credibility. She doesn’t belt “Cabaret” and “Maybe This Time” like Liza but delivers heartbreaking meaning to every lyrical line. And she’s a joy to watch with almost feathery lightness as she strikes poses.
And the ornery Emcee, Randy Harrison, makes that androgynous goblin who sings the memorable “Willkommen” likable despite his more sinister side. When Kit Kat Klub “girls” perform “Kick Line,” one of them whips off a feminine wig and Harrison gleefully declares, “It’s me.”
Don’t expect a Joel Grey in tuxedo. I had the pleasure of seeing a UNO treatment years ago with Brian Malgreave as the slick Emcee in well-tailored tuxedo, and then much later at the Boulder, Colorado, Dinner Theatre in the Mendes version with sleazy suspenders.
The same actor made a much greater impact as the more decadent character.
What you get in the Omaha Performing Arts offering at the Orpheum is a production that begins with the Kit Kat girls and boys on stage stretching before the show gets underway. The Emcee schmoozes with the “damen und herren” in the audience then and later starts the second act by stepping down from the stage to banter and dance briefly with women on each side of the auditorium.
A surprising highlight also gets act two jumping by letting the Kit Kat Band cut loose with the title song. Band members, always on stage in costume, also play small roles.
If the show sticks to the seedier side in the Kit Kat Klub, it’s more traditional in scenes at Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house. The ill-fated romanee between the fraulein (Mary Gordon Murray) and the shopkeeper who courts her with fruit (Scott Robertson) provides some of the best vocals with their “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and her powerfully plaintive treatment of “What Would You Do?” as she faces the danger to her Jewish friend.
Some comic relief from the grim Berlin of 1929-1930 comes from Schneider’s efforts to patrol the hanky-panky of Frau Kost (Alison Ewing), who shuttles sailors in and out of her bedroom.
The other central character, the American writer named Clifford Bradshaw, is played by tall Benjamin Eakeley. He’s allowed some sympathetic efforts to save Sally from decadence, but isn’t required to carry much of the musical burden.
The key creative force behind this revival of the Mendes version is the original director and choreographer Rob Marshall, with an added bow to the costume design by William Ivey Long.
The undies worn by the Kit Kat girls might be simply described as the antithesis of Victoria’s Secret. Flashy they ain’t. And the intentionally awkward choreography reinforces that forementioned artistic unity that reaches a chillingly perfect climax in the final scene where anyone still smiling is reminded of the impending horror.
Cabaret runs through Sunday at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St., with shows at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets, ranging from $30 to $95, are available throught ticketomaha.com or by calling 402.345.0606.