Sugar Rush

Life is no Cabaret, my friends.

All of this is underscored by the middle-aged romance between Fräulein Schneider and the Jewish fruiterer Herr Schultz. John Arp gives him a touching, anxious-empathetic smile, and Barb Reeves, who also played Fräulein Schneider for Boulder's Dinner Theatre, offers a gentle, empathetic performance. Scott McLean is a thoughtful, sympathetic Clifford, and Mary McGroary has a striking presence and perhaps the best voice in the show as the whore, Fräulein Kost.

The weak spot in the cast is Melinda Dickson's Sally Bowles. I rather liked her in her first song, "Don't Tell Mama," where she revealed a daffy, tousled quality that I thought would make for an intriguing Sally. Her delivery of the big numbers -- "Maybe This Time" and "Cabaret" -- is forceful, if unsubtle. But though she doesn't lack innate talent, Dickson seems untrained. None of the character's emotions is fully plumbed; no physical movement is taken to completion. Words fly out of her mouth as if they haven't had time to pass through her mind. True, Sally's a fluff-head, but on stage even a fluff-head needs a clear outline.

In this production, the Emcee lurks on the outskirts of most of the action, as if he were orchestrating not only the musical numbers in the Klub, but the chaos outside as well. He's obviously a symbolic figure, and Sugar makes him almost inhuman at times: a grinning, ghoulish gnome. But the actor also takes pains to show him as small and ultimately powerless. You can't tell if he's decided to go along with the Nazi regime simply to save his own skin or because it resonates with the viciousness inside him. Is the swastika on his ass a gesture of allegiance or defiance? Just when does he come to understand that people like himself are in as much danger as people like Herr Schultz?

Melinda Dickson as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
Melinda Dickson as Sally Bowles in Cabaret.

There's a number in Cabaret that always clenches my stomach: The Emcee dances with a gorilla while singing what sounds like a sweet song about tolerating differences. It's comic. The audience laughs. At the end, he explains that the gorilla is a Jew, and the audience realizes just what they've been laughing at. It's a valid trick by the show's creators. But knowing how Jews were caricatured in the run-up to the Holocaust -- and, for that matter, how American blacks were depicted in racist cartoons -- I find the laughter almost intolerable.

I don't think this Cabaret would have bothered me as much as it did if Sugar's production weren't such a depth charge, powered both by his own performance and by the kick-ass music of Donna Debreceni and her band. Sugar starred in Cabaret for the Theatre Group five years ago; he was excellent then, too, but this production feels tighter, more together and more savage.

On my way home, I listen to friends praising the production and try to sort out what I feel about having that monstrous thing that filled my childhood vision evoked again. I can hear Sugar's voice jouncing through my mind during the hour-long ride: "Wilkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!" But he really doesn't need to bid me to "Bleibe, reste, stay." A part of me has never left.

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