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by James Yeara on July 25, 2012

Book by Joe Mastgeroff, music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, directed by Michael LoPorto, music direction by Justin P. Cowan, choreography by Geoffrey Doig-Marx Park Playhouse, through July 29

Shannon Rafferty as Sally Bowles in Park Playhouse's CABARET

The Kit Kat Club set thrusts a slender runway, complete with large round bulbs for footlights, into the audience, like a slender pinkie sneaking into the Lakehouse’s formerly sacrosanct pit; instead of paying patrons sitting row after row uncomfortably in plastic chairs, long slabs of wood form 20 tables surrounding the stage, making for a much more intimate setting. The table service (chardonnay or Bud Light) provided by the Kit Kat Club dancers before the show and during intermission completes the stage makeover from its usual proscenium to the seedy Berlin nightclub circa 1931.

William Davis’ scenic design perfectly serves the show. Park Playhouse’s Cabaret welcomes its audience to a more adult evening of entertainment, continuing the smart rebooting to more artistic fare with a more sophisticated flair than in the troupe’s previous family-friendly summer productions. As a follow-up to last summer’s The Producers, Cabaret doesn’t hit that production’s level of hilarity, but as an entertaining evening for the PG-13 crowd, it’s not to be missed.

Folks familiar with the original stage version or the Academy Award-winning Bob Fosse film might be startled to see the influence of Sam Mendes’ 1998 Broadway revival (which toured through Proctors) in this production. Michael LoPorto has followed up his sound direction of The Producers with a fine effort with Cabaret, relying again on the multitalented Jason Jacoby (Leo Bloom in The Producers) as the Master of Ceremonies, who conducts Cabaret from its welcoming (“Wilkommen”) to its last stripping away (keeping Mendes’ powerful staging, LoPorto has the M.C. take off his Kit Kat Club costume to reveal a concentration camp uniform, complete with yellow Star of David and pink triangle).

Jacoby plays the emcee as a vaudevillian scamp; he’s not creepy like Joel Grey or febrile like Alan Cumming. Jacoby is always present, but he’s never just taking up space, showing off, or mugging for attention; there’s a life at play even in the moments when he just watches the other stories play out. If “The Money Song” is tame and “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes” loses some of its bite, Jacoby creates the perfect performance for Park Playhouse and its audience, preserving Cabaret’s entertainment and a little of the pathos.

Choreographer Geoffrey Doig-Marx’s Kit Kat Club dancers (Lauren Alaimo, Megan Elyse Fulmer, Caroline Griswold, Kiley Hinkle, Ashley Simone Kirchner, Brandon Maxwell, Victoria Meade, Joseph Rosario, Robert Taylor, and Sharrod Williams) match Jacoby’s focus and integrity, adding zest to not only the chorus numbers. The dancers have triple duty playing numerous characters—partygoers, audience members, Nazis—as well as taking drink orders. It all adds to the fun.

So solid is Park Playhouse’s Cabaret that even the smaller roles shine. Ernst Ludwig (Micah Bond), first seen as a smooth smuggler on a train to Berlin, comes off as a hale and hearty fellow, with the good-natured charm of bond trader or insurance agent. He’s tall, he’s cheery, he’s got perfectly cut hair. So it’s all the scarier when he reveals that he’s a Nazi agent; evil never looks evil. It’s another excellent performance and a sound directorial touch in a production full of them. Park Playhouse’s Cabaret is full of good reasons for a stroll to the Lakehouse this summer.