It’s not easy to forget Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as the Emcee, in the iconic movie version of “Cabaret,” which remains the benchmark for many folks familiar with the musical. And director-choreograph Bob Fosse’s fingerprints are everywhere.
“Cabaret” also has been a revival classic on Broadway, famously securing a perch on the must-see list, especially when Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming topped the cast.
Even the Manoa Valley Theatre’s reboot, with Marisa Noelle as Sally and Gage Thomas as the Emcee, will attract a crowd of rooters. When the material’s solid — and make no mistake, “Cabaret” still has wattage — it’s always gratifying to shout out, “Come to the ‘Cabaret,’ ol’ chum,” to quote a line in the show’s title number.
The basics remain –- music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, the set-in-Germany plot based on the play by John Van Druten, from the book by Joe Masteroff and inspired by stories by Christopher Isherwood. The story is about optimism and survival, amid the politics of Germany’s evolving growth of Nazism, circa 1930s.
MTV’s sleek rendering is ensconced in the tiny theater that has been reimagined as the Kit Kat Klub, “where everything is beautiful.” The spartan but impressive set, by Willie Sabel, is essentially a functioning scalloped curtain framed by bulbs like in a backstage mirror, but magnified in size, with six smaller frames of lights. Seating with tables and chairs (sofas, for premium seats) is augmented by service by waitstaff to deliver drinks and nibbles before the show, and during intermission. The nine-member orch, large for MVT and conducted by Maika‘i Nash, is situated on a platform above the last three or four rows of seats, so yes, it’s quite a clubby experience.
The show boasts tunes of romance and yearning, and sexual advances as well as sexual ambiguity are constant.
From the get-go, when the Emcee welcomes the audience into his world, you leave your troubles outside. Thomas has a seductive voice, a sweet gay presence, befitting the club of dreams and hopes, where singer-dancer Sally warbles with passion and seeks a relationship with an American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Nick Amador, charming, sincere) detained in Germany to teach English. The couple’s “Perfectly Marvelous” is an early highlight in the string of familiar tunes from the Kander-Ebb jukebox.
Along the way, Fraulein Schneider (Susan Hawes, loving and honest), who rents a room to Cliff, discovers Herr Schultz (Mo Madke, distinguished and gentlemanly loyal, who’ll be remembered as the fruit man, including pineapple). They share two sweet duets, “If Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married,” devoid of the raunchy energy inside the Kit Kat.
The cast also includes Ernst Ludwig (Rob Duval, Cliff’s supportive friend) and Fraulein Kost (Sally Swanson, with a luminous voice), who duet on “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”
The swagger and the seductive tone of the nightclub is demonstrated in the frisky and sensual advances of the Kit Kat female dancers, Frenchie (Alexandria Zinov), Lulu (Emily North), Rosie (Asha DuMonthier), and Texas (Chloe Tower), and gents Bobby (Marcus Stranger), Victor (Eriq James), and Max (Sean Kaya). Choreographer Dwayne Sakaguchi managed to orchestrate movement efficiently, despite different body types and skills, on that tiny stage space.
Director Alex Munro pulls all the right strings to make the club feel genuine. And Janine Myers’ lighting design and Lock Lynch’s sound design bring out the twinkle of the production. Costumes by Mailee Speetjens project the vital sexual aura of the Kit Kat-ers, but Sally is often donned with a white shirt, understating and clouding her world of glitter. Lisa Ponce de Leon’s hair and makeup appear suitable for the era.
Not sure if all the Germanic accent is on target, and some cast members do better than others.
So willkommen; order drinks; tip well.
“Cabaret” playdates: now through Sept. 25, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with 3 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays.
Tickets: $42 for adults, $37 for seniors and military, and $24 for youths 25 and younger, available at www.manoavalleytheatre.com or at (808) 988-6131.
And that’s Show Biz. …