Review: Cabaret at the Garden Theater

By Todd LaPlace
From the September 27, 2012 edition

Aided by the fantastic setting of the redone Garden Theater, Short North Stage’s production of “Cabaret” has enough richness and energy to feel like a great production of the classic musical.

If only the show wasn’t plagued by so many minor problems.

Spotlights at the back of the stage or projected into mirrors can be annoyingly bright and temporarily blinding, a frequent occurrence with the staging of this show.

The baffling decision not to mic several of the performances made hearing the songs difficult over the music. The Emcee (JJ Parkey) opened the show by saying “Willkommen,” but he could have said anything with as much of the song as could be understood.

Fortunately, the show itself is strong enough to remain interesting, with a number of terrific performances from the show’s lead cast.

American Cliff (Chris Shea) has come to pre-World War II Berlin to find inspiration for his novel, but has found love with Kit Kat Klub showgirl Sally Bowles (Kaitlin Descutner) instead. Descutner is especially wonderful as her blissfully unaware Sally sings and dances her way through terrific numbers like “Don’t Tell Mama.”

Perhaps it was simply opening night nerves, but the rest of the Kit Kat Klub dancers were sadly underperforming, especially during the show’s first act. It was easy to catch them struggling to keep up with the other dancers, a sad distraction from some otherwise terrific numbers.

Not struggling, however, were perhaps the show’s standout performances from Josie Merkle, Joel Cohen and Jenna Lee Shively. The three occupy the curious little side plot of Cliff’s landlady and neighbors, and collaborate on a wonderful version of “Married.”

[pics provided]