Paramount's 'Cabaret' evokes daring blend of decadance and dread

 
 
Updated 2/14/2018 11:16 AM
hello
  • Sally Bowles (Kelly Felthous) sings the breakup number "Mein Herr" in the seedy Kit Kat Klub in "Cabaret" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

    Sally Bowles (Kelly Felthous) sings the breakup number "Mein Herr" in the seedy Kit Kat Klub in "Cabaret" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

  • Sally Bowles (Kelly Felthous), center, leads the Kit Kat Klub girls in the breakup number "Mein Herr" in "Cabaret." The musical plays the Paramount Theatre in Aurora through Sunday, March 18.

    Sally Bowles (Kelly Felthous), center, leads the Kit Kat Klub girls in the breakup number "Mein Herr" in "Cabaret." The musical plays the Paramount Theatre in Aurora through Sunday, March 18. Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

"Cabaret" -- ★ ★ ★

Sleaze and unease masterfully underscore the best productions of "Cabaret," and Paramount Theatre's version has both in equal measure. Director/choreographer Katie Spelman takes it one step further, framing her dark and uncomfortably prescient take on this groundbreaking musical -- set against the Nazis rise to power -- with horrified hindsight.

Spellman's "Cabaret" begins as the bisexual American author Cliff Bradshaw (Garrett Lutz) sits down at his typewriter to pound out memories of 1930s Berlin. The flashback acknowledges author Christopher Isherwood, whose original "Berlin Stories" helped to inspire this 1966 musical by songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb with playwright Joe Masteroff.

Cliff's typing transforms into the ominous opening drumroll that conjures up the sexually fluid Emcee (Joseph Anthony Byrd as a song-and-dance dynamo). Dressed in a tuxedo top with garter belt and stockings (a prime example of designer Mieka van der Ploeg's seedy yet glamorous costuming), the Emcee then introduces the other debauched denizens of the underground Kit Kat Klub with a rousing "Wilkommen."

The Emcee (Joseph Anthony Byrd), center in tuxedo, and Sally Bowles (Kelly Felthous) lead the Kit Kat Klub performers in the opening number "Wilkommen" in "Cabaret." The hit Broadway musical continues at Aurora's Paramount Theatre through Sunday, March 18.
The Emcee (Joseph Anthony Byrd), center in tuxedo, and Sally Bowles (Kelly Felthous) lead the Kit Kat Klub performers in the opening number "Wilkommen" in "Cabaret." The hit Broadway musical continues at Aurora's Paramount Theatre through Sunday, March 18. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

Most significant among the Kit Kat Klub performers is the flighty British chanteuse Sally Bowles, (Kelly Felthous, putting in more great Kander and Ebb duty after starring as Roxie in "Chicago" last year at Drury Lane Theatre). Felthous' self-absorbed Sally is a wonderful mix of posh verve and damaged vulnerability, especially as she barges her way into the life of Lutz's shocked Cliff.

Cliff and Sally's unconventional relationship contrasts with the more courtly love that blossoms between "Cabaret's" secondary couple. Hollis Resnik masterfully takes on the tough-love landlady Fraulein Schneider, who eventually gives way to the romantic overtures of the Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz (an amusing Ron E. Raines).

Resnik is also great in the farcical comedy scenes with Meghan Murphy, who brings a wry archness to the prostitute Fraulein Kost with her series of visiting "nephews." So it's a shock when Kost and Cliff's German friend Ernst (Brandon Springman), later show their true political colors.

Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz (Ron E. Rains) and Fraulein Schneider (Hollis Resnik) contemplate being "Married" in "Cabaret" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz (Ron E. Rains) and Fraulein Schneider (Hollis Resnik) contemplate being "Married" in "Cabaret" at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora. - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

Few roles conjure memories as quickly as that of the Emcee, portrayed as a creepy dandy by role originator Joel Grey or the aggressive pansexual of Alan Cumming in the 1998 Broadway revival, the more explicit script version that Paramount is producing. Yet Byrd's commanding and exuberant embodiment of the Emcee is a reminder that many African-American entertainers wowed early 20th-century Europe with touring jazz and dance troupes. Perhaps as a nod to star Josephine Baker, who made Paris her home, Byrd's Emcee reflects how some African-Americans found more artistic and personal freedom in Europe compared to the U.S.

Clifford Bradshaw (Garrett Lutz), seated, is interrogated by a border patrol officer (Liam Quealy) while the Emcee (Joseph Anthony Byrd) and fellow patrons of Berlin's Kit Kat Klub sing "Money" in Paramount Theatre's production of "Cabaret."
Clifford Bradshaw (Garrett Lutz), seated, is interrogated by a border patrol officer (Liam Quealy) while the Emcee (Joseph Anthony Byrd) and fellow patrons of Berlin's Kit Kat Klub sing "Money" in Paramount Theatre's production of "Cabaret." - Courtesy of Liz Lauren/Paramount Theatre

Throughout "Cabaret," Spelman gets across the necessary razzle-dazzle of the Kit Kat Klub production numbers while also harnessing the emotion of more dramatic scenes. The pockmarked sets by designer Scott Davis and the deliberately dim lighting by Yael Lubetzky also propel the production's ever-creeping dread.

One complaint of Spellman's "Cabaret" is its ambiguous ending with the whole ensemble moving around in slow-motion formations. Unlike past productions, Spellman's take doesn't spell out the tragic ends that await those rounded up and labeled as "degenerates" by the Nazis. But like Cliff, we can make regretful guesses.

• • •

Location: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Chicago, (630) 896-6666 or paramountaurora.com

Showtimes: 1:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday; through March 18

Running time: About 2 hours 40 minutes, including intermission

Tickets: $36-$64

Parking: Paid parking garages and area street parking

Rating: For mature audiences: strong sexual content and violence

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.