There’s something about an election year that makes “Cabaret” frightening.
The Weimar Republic was already too far gone to save itself by the time we meet the denizens of the seedy Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin. Ronald Green III chillingly directs the 1998 revival version of “Cabaret” at Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts with an eye toward broadening the Nazi target beyond hapless citizens who consider themselves Germans first, Jews second.
“If You Could See Her Through My Eyes,” the then-controversial gorilla number when “Cabaret” debuted on Broadway in 1966, becomes a metaphor for anyone who’s not of the Master Race. Though the punchline remains — “She wouldn’t look Jewish at all” — you can substitute Muslim, homosexual, people of color . . .
Sally Bowles, an English teenager sleeping her way to a song-and-dance career, thinks of “party” solely in terms of booze and sex. For a while, she’s enabled by Cliff Bradshaw, a naive American novelist who expects Berlin to excite his creative imagination. He takes a room in the boardinghouse of Fraulein Schneider, who, in middle age, has a late chance at marriage with Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit-shop owner. Their lives are compromised by a Nazi sympathizer and a prostitute who believes “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.”
Meanwhile, we’re all under the spell of the Emcee.
Katie Ferretti as Sally is — like the late Natasha Richardson — not so tone-perfect that we can’t imagine why she’s stuck in such a dive as the Kit Kat. Ferretti gives herself room to expose her flaws and grow into a showstopper on the title number. As Cliff, Brian Gill projects an earnest vulnerability that explains his poor judgment of character. Phyllis March and Edward Breese, as mixed-marriage wannabes, epitomize the relatable disaster that awaits Germans who don’t conform. Jessica Ader-Ferretti as the “working girl” and Franklyn Butler as the Nazi allow us to glimpse their flawed characters’ humanity.
As the Emcee, Robbie Torres rips the illusion from our eyes even as he’s weaving it through Danielle Coutieri’s naughty (“Don’t Tell Mama”) choreography. Torres is as fine an Emcee as I’ve seen this side of Alan Cumming. As for Melissa Coyle’s mellifluous band, Torres keeps telling us how “BEE-UOO-TO-FULL” they are. But we barely glimpse them through the cockeyed window on an otherwise spot-on set by Timothy Golebiewski.
This “Cabaret” sings a powerfully nasty tune.