The Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans is starting off its summer season strong with the time-honored musical “Cabaret.” Capturing the atmosphere of Weimar Germany, the musical won 10 Tony Awards when it opened in 1966, and has long been a favorite at the APA.
John Pearson plays aspiring novelist Cliff Bradshaw, who moves to Berlin to work on his latest book. As Cliff, Pearson clearly conveys the shift in his character as he becomes progressively disillusioned with the initial glitz and glamour of early 1930s Berlin, changing from a naive and uncertain young man to one with strong opinions about the world he is living in.
Cliff meets the jittery and evasive Ernst Ludwig (Geof Newton) en route to Germany. He directs Cliff to Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, jokingly calling it “the finest residence in all Berlin.” As Fraulein Schneider, the no-nonsense landlady, Julia Salinger conveys the character’s resigned yet cautious attitude towards life, a philosophy clearly shown through her poignant opening song “So What?”
Celebrating the New Year, Cliff visits the seedy Kit Kat Klub, where self-described “mysterious and fascinating” cabaret singer Sally Bowles, outstandingly played by college student Olivia Graceffa, is highlighted. Cliff quickly becomes enraptured by her after her provocative performance of “Don’t Tell Mamma” with her exuberant dance troupe (Anna McEntee, Meghan Sullivan, Rachel Hatfield, Lizzy Smythe and Susanna Creel).
As Sally Bowles, Graceffa’s impressive voice fills the theater, notably in the numbers “Mein Herr” and “Maybe This Time.” Throughout the play, she impressively maintains Sally’s British accent, even while singing, along with her jaded yet oblivious air.
Russell Snow warmly portrays Herr Schultz, the kindly widower fruit seller who courts Fraulein Schneider. The two share a charming and lively “It Couldn't Please Me More (A Pineapple)” when Schultz brings the landlady one of his precious fruits.
The individual voices of many cast members are showcased throughout the show, notably in McEntee and Newton’s duet “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” as well as Pearson’s few numbers as Cliff. His resonant voice pairs well with Graceffa’s in “Perfectly Marvelous.”
The events of the main storyline are interspersed with numbers from the nightclub, showcasing Graceffa and the other dancers, as well as the dynamic Emcee, played by Beau Jackett. These scenes offer commentary on the events of the plot and actions of the characters, and are often comical, as is the case in the hilarious “Two Ladies,” performed by the Emcee and his two female companions, in the small bed they share.
As the Emcee, Jackett punctuates each scene with his high energy and maniacal actions, frequently engaging the audience, especially in the opening number “Willkommen.” Jackett transforms into a darker expression of his character as the Emcee becomes visibly more disgusted by what the nation is becoming. Jackett is reprising the role at the APA, and it is clear through his seamless German accent and comedic timing that he has it down pat.
Director Peter Earle captures the sinister atmosphere of the growing Nazi party, especially through the use of eerie black-and-white projections of Nazi propaganda onto a literal smoke screen.
Ellen Birmingham’s costumes evolve with the progression of the play as well, with the colors becoming darker and makeup more dramatic.
The minimalist set is reminiscent of a nightclub, with the professional four-piece band taking center stage (musical director Chris Morris, Dick Stocks, Kevin Quill, with Will Brooks and Evan Eldredge sharing the role of drums).
“Cabaret” runs over two-and-a-half hours, giving the audience plenty of time “to leave their troubles outside” as the Master of Ceremonies insists in the famous opening number.
“Come to the Cabaret!”
At The Academy of Performing Arts, 120 Main St., Orleans
Through July 14
Information and reservations: 508-255-1963, www.apacape.org