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'Cabaret' review: Powerhouse numbers, powerful message

Cortney Wolfson, seated, takes center stage as Sally

Cortney Wolfson, seated, takes center stage as Sally Bowles performing with the Kit Kat Girls in "Cabaret" at Gateway Performing Arts Center. Credit: Jeff Bellante

WHAT "Cabaret"

WHEN | WHERE Through Aug. 18, Gateway Performing Arts Center, 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

INFO From $59; 631-286-1133, thegateway.org

BOTTOM LINE An intense production hits as hard as ever. 

Screaming, cheering audiences rising in a standing ovation at the curtain call have become all but commonplace these days. Stunned silence, not so much.

But that's exactly what the actors at Gateway Performing Arts Center are facing right now, because no matter how many times you see "Cabaret," the ending — Nazis everywhere, swastikas everywhere — hits you as hard as the brick thrown through a shop window at the beginning of the second act. 

In this case, the brick was hand delivered by the Emcee (a superb Josh Canfield, putting his own spin on such an established character), who is all over the place in this intense production of the frequently revived John Kander-Fred Ebb musical. Canfield, getting quite the workout this summer at Gateway where he just finished starring in "Memphis," shows up often and in unexpected places in director Larry Raben's staging, a constant reminder of the ominous path ahead.

There the Emcee is, peeking through the window of the train that delivers novelist Clifford Bradshaw (Steven Grant Douglas, solid as the unheeded voice of reason) to Berlin. And again when the morally challenged singer Sally Bowles (Cortney Wolfson, playing the tough cookie whose insecurities show mostly in the title song) talks her way into Bradshaw's room. Then the Emcee sneaks in somewhat oddly (decked out in a grass skirt and coconut-shell bikini top, no less) during the sweet love song "It Couldn't Please Me More" sung by Herr Schultz (Steve Brady) and Fraulein Schneider (Dorothy Stanley). Both are charming, though she might tone down the glam makeup a smidge.

"Cabaret" is one of those shows that's manipulated with every production — songs added, songs taken away. Here the cute "Telephone Song" gets relegated to a couple of lines during a scene change, though the Kit Kat Girls and Boys get plenty of stage time in numbers like "Mein Herr" to show off Lee Martino's strip-club-tinged choreography. "Maybe This Time" from the 1972 film is included, and most notably, the Emcee delivers a haunting rendition of the often omitted "I Don't Care Much."

The show's most controversial song is "If You Could See Her," sung by the Emcee and a gorilla, a song hard to take and sometimes dropped because of its harsh anti-Semitic message. Bravely, this production went with it and, as always, the last line, "If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn't look Jewish at all," drew gasps from the audience. But really it's a song that has a much wider message, one of acceptance and tolerance. As does the play.

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