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The Kit Kat Klub is open at The San Francisco Playhouse for the summer, and it is a perfect way to celebrate their stellar 16th season of theatre in the Bay Area. This version of Sam Mendes’ and Rob Marshall’s interpretation of Fred Ebb’s and John Kander's production of CABARET is on stage through September 14th at the Kensington Park Hotel stage. Directed by the terrific Susi Damilano with Fosse inspired choreography by Nicole Helfer and a live cabaret band under the direction of Dave Dobrusky. SFPH Artistic director Bill English says after 73 years since the Holocaust we don’t want to forget the survivors “So we bring back Cababet that reminds us never to forget and that we must be on the watch lest it repeat itself.”

The Mendes’ revival made Alan Cumming a Broadway star as the iconic Emcee. CABARET is based on the play “I Am Camera” that was inspired by Christopher Isherwood's 1939 portrait of Sally in "Goodbye to Berlin". I first saw the original version as a teen with Joel Grey and Melissa Hart at the Curran Theatre; however, the musical has changed a lot over the years to highlight the darker side, to focus on the end of freedom of art and expression- and “The Night of the Long Knives” and Hitler's takeover of Berlin.

CABARET now in its 53rd year takes us back to the famous Kit Kat Klub in pre-Nazi Berlin featuring the show stopping John Paul Gonzalez as the gender-fluid Emcee and the acomplished Cate Haymen as Sally Bowles. Haymen sings “Don’t Tell Mama” with her Kit Kat girls as the classic sassy Bowles, and the gifted Gonzalez plays the Emcee with some evil sassy sizzle and lets the supporting cast shine. The number “Mein Herr” features the Cabaret six member Band under the direction of Dobrusky perched above the Kit Kat Klub on set designer Jacquelyn Scott’s clever two level set.

The groundbreaking musical two and a half hour show is still a mix of vaudevillian cabaret performances at the Kit Kat Klub with a story following the lives and romances of several folks who lived in 1929-30 during the fall of Berlin. Director Damilano brings a visual end of the world party spirit to the BPH stage. As the story progresses, the rise of Hitler impacts both the Klub and these characters. With the focus on the rise of Nazism in Germany, CABARET might risk bringing current fears of our own current Trump world. This summer another Kit Kat Klub is also in performance in the South Bay and both shows are a bold celebration to the original staging.

The sold out opening night audience was entranced with landlady, Fraulein Schneider, played by the endearing Jennie Brick and fruit store owner, Herr Schultz, played by the amiable, dapper local favorite Louis Parnell in an engaging love story. Brick shares her spot on marvelous voice and German accent in her compelling performance of “So What”. Her new tenant an American, Cliff Bradshaw, played by newcomer Atticus Shaindlin who has a proven voice in “Perfectly Marvelous” and that sweet boy next door feel until he is seduced by Sally. Shaindlin’s on stage relationship and connection with Hayman and others in the story is solid and his acting future is sure to be successful.

It is the sweet older couple love story perfectly mixed by the tragic romance between Sally and the American writer that give this pre-Nazi story its classic dark charm. Local favorite costume designer, Abra Berman, created a rich look for the cast with sexual undertones for both the male and female characters, especially for the Emcee and his/her Castro street leather chaps look.

Hayman is camp cute, yet a dark Sally who is enchanting with powerhouse vocals. Director Damilano brings a smart and poignant interpretation with this Cabaret and makes perfect use of the SFPH venue. Audience members are placed on stage at Cabaret tables and the Kit Kat customers interact with the 16 member cast.

The busy ensemble includes Zach Isen as Bobby, who is missing in “Two Ladies” but Mary Kalita is a camp Frenchie and Melissa WolfKlain is edgy as Rosie. They both bring a sexual giggle to this number. The sexy ensemble of Kit Kat Girls and Boys are keen as Germans and vibrant as the cast is on stage most of the time. The girls are “Each and every one a virgin.” ‘Ooh, you don't believe me?’ says the Emcee.

The sexy Kit Kat girls include Loreigna Sinclair who is frisky as Lulu, Zoe Swenson, and the rousing Jean Paul Jones as Texas. The boys include the riveting Carlos Guerrero as Victor and Zach Isen as Bobby. A few songs from the original book were cut, like “The Telephone Song.” The set has a cozy Kit Kat Klub that also transforms to the boarding house Cliff rents from Schneider. Jacquelyn Scott props make sure Sally has her classic egg for her hangover drink, the club chairs, dial phones, that amazing pineapple with beautiful fruit bowl and classy bar ware. The SFPH company rarely uses microphones, but sound designer Teddy Hulsker used a vintage mic and stand and kept the classic song “I Don’t Care Much” vintage depth.

Lighting designer Michael Oesch kept that dark exit back lit and the cast entrances were intriguing and dramatic foreshadowing the holocaust. The powerful first light cue is memorable and the Klub sign is awesome. Oesch’s lighting was also full of character and his use on the follow lighting for the Kit Kat solos and Haymans’ compelling “Cabaret” was excellent.

Gonzalez engages the audience as the Emcee and brings eye catching moves to Helfer’s choreography with “Fosse” charm that hypnotized the audience with the iconic CABARET songs "Willkommen,","Money", and "If You Could See Her.” Music Director Dobrusky’s band keeps the ensemble pitch perfect with his Kit Kat band. Hayman, as Sally in her grand fur coat and ease of swallowing raw eggs, navigates the moving anthem “Maybe Next Time” which is one of the highlights for the dark evening. Her vocals in the iconic number “Cabaret” is show stopping - she clearly tells the story of her downfall with perfect movement and made it less of a ballad.

Brick and Parnell as the two older lovers are touching together and bring their cute and endearing “It Couldn’t Please Me More” (more popularly known as the Pineapple song) a new meaning to our modern issues, and the song always wins over any audience. The enthusiastic Abby Haug plays, Fraulein Kost, the overworked prostitute that has perfect comic timing with the sailors and scares us with her reprise rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” and her love for Nazis. The accomplished Bay Area pro Will Springhorn Jr. as Ernst showed a provocative transformation as he reveals his Nazi side and his seduction of Cliff.

The final moments make it clear that we are about to be overpowered by the darkest forces in history. The Nazi anthem "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" shouts out with defiance and destruction. The Emcee baits us as he flirts with the audience members, teases the crowd making us squirm and taking us into this death chamber . CABARET still speaks to us and our current, contentious political climate. The instant round of cheers and a standing O from the sold out opening night audience was well deserved. Next up for SFPH is DANCE NATION that opens in September, and later their 17th season continues with FOLLIES for summer 2020 . For 16 years SFPH has been an important part of the Bay Area Theatre community presenting important and entertaining work. Add to your summer tickets a seat at this Klub with a powerful sizzling evening of “Welcome to Berlin” and leave your troubles behind.



Written Joe Masteroff, Music by John Kander

Lyrics by Fred Ebb

Based on a play by John Van Druten

Director Susi Damilano

Music Director Dave Dobrusky

Choreographer Nicole Helfer

Production Manager Maggie Koch

Now Through – Sept 14th

SFPH Theatre,

450 Post Street, San Francisco

2.5 hours with one intermission


Production photos by Jessica Palopoli


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