When "Cabaret" opened on Broadway in '66, a generation had grown up since the fall of the Third Reich. Yet the musical was a shocker. Today, with it's arc from life in the fast lane to death on a mass scale, "Cabaret," in the right hands, still shocks and exhilarates.
At the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, the right hands include those of director BT McNicholl, associate director of 1998's Tony-winning revival, who entrusts the key Emcee role to "Cabaret" veteran Jon Peterson. Neither disappoints.
British-born Peterson leads a European-leaning chorus, giving the decadent Kit Kat Klub an authentic flavor. Many in the ensemble played "Cabaret" at Paris' Folies Bergere, where Sally Bowles would feel at home. Sally is the British expat star of Kit Kat's floor show, knocking 'em out with such numbers as "Don't Tell Mama." She meets Cliff, an American novelist seeking his muse. Sally moves in with him at a boardinghouse, where, due to tough times, landlady Fraulein Schneider has lowered her standards. A prostitute (played by Laura Shoop) lives - and works - across the hall. The landlady's Jewish suitor (Scott Robertson) proposes, but Nazi thugs scuttle the wedding. "What Would You Do?" sings the excellent Lori Wilner in her answer to "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," a chilling duet by Shoop and the swastika-banded Fred Rose.
But it's Sally and the Emcee who propel "Cabaret" through its denial of doom. Peterson already appears bedraggled as lights go up on Court Watson's nightclub/boardinghouse set. He looks progressively worse for wear through Act II. As a man of variable sexual preference, he's as vulnerable as the Jews. His "I Don't Care Much," in this one-brilliant-number-after-another Kander-and-Ebb score, is understated surrender.
More heartbreaking is Sally, masking insecurities with slutty bravado as played by a stunning Kate Fahrner. Her "Maybe This Time" sets up tragedy with wistful hopefulness, while her title song careens between determination and regret. That Cliff (Adam Greer) is dull makes Sally's decision more believable.
The beautiful band, directed by Bruce Barnes, stars in the Entr'acte in shredded lingerie (costumes by Gail Baldoni) and bared chests, only to disappear when the party's over - and the Party takes over.
WHEN | WHERE Thursday and Friday nights at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through March 27, Sunday evening performances start Feb. 20, Wednesday shows start March 2, Thursday matinee March 24, at Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
INFO $60; engemantheater.com, 631-261-2900