Joe Chvala made his name in Twin Cities theater as a choreographer. He had his first local directing gig four years ago, with “Light in the Piazza” . Since then he has gone on to direct at the Guthrie (“Christmas Carol”) and elsewhere. He returns to BCT for “Cabaret,” a musical that plays to his strengths.
Chvala chose to use the original 1966 version of the show about Sally Bowles and the Kit Kat Club in late ‘20s Berlin, rather than the version director Sam Mendes used for the 1994 revival, which incorporates songs from the 1972 Liza Minnelli film, and is much darker than the original.
The first version comes across with an innocence reflecting the stage realities of the early 1960s while lacking the gravitas of the later version.
That said, Chvala’s choreography is masterful, as strong — and as individually distinctive — as Bob Fosse’s in the film. If his directing kept things a little light, that may be a function of the edition. He adds to the darkness by making the Kit Kat Klub as perverse as possible and using a version of Mendes’ apocalyptic ending.
Chvala helps Joey Clark create a masterful Master of Ceremonies, entirely banishing memories of Joel Grey. This is a movement-based character, part sexual deviant, part slithering reptile.
As Fraulein Schneider, Karen Weber gives a real fierceness to the character’s bitter disillusion and determination to survive. She also plays her middle-aged romance with sweetness and vulnerability.
It’s sad that Weber sang “What Would You Do?” right before Abby DeSanto, as Sally Bowles, sang “Cabaret.” DeSanto is a fine singer and delivers a potent performance (except for her dropping Sally’s English accent along the way). She just misses that final degree of essential star power.
Robin McIntyre’s set is cleverly evocative. He creates a world of gritty despair and depraved theatricality. Ed Gleeman’s designs amplify that feeling, while also being conscious of adding to the character.
Music director Anita Ruth was not in the pit for this one. And her absence showed. Conductor Eric Sayre had a hard time maintaining the correct balance between pit and stage.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about theater.