There are several narrative strands in Cabaret, but the mood is most intensely embodied in the Mephistophelean Master of Ceremonies, or Emcee, with his whitened face, rouged lips and bright tuxedos. This crucial role was created and indelibly stamped by Joel Grey in the original production (and the movie), much as Marlon Brando put his brand on Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. These are notoriously difficult acts to follow. All the more reason to stand up and cheer for Roy Haylock, who guides us with lithe showmanship through the distorted mirror of decadent Weimar Berlin.
'Wilkommen, bienvenue," sings the Emcee in the opening number. 'Leave your problems outside. Here life is beautiful."
The play then jumps to its main story. Cliff Bradshaw (Richard Arnold), an aspiring novelist from Pennsylvania, is joined in a train compartment by Ernst Ludwig (Jimmy Murphy), a German returning from Paris to Berlin. Ernst pulls a bit of legerdemain with his luggage to distract a customs official. This tiny flash of falsehood is of the greatest consequence " for Cliff, for Berlin, for the whole world. But the incident is quickly forgotten, as Ernst offers to help his new American friend find lodgings and to set him up as an English teacher. He takes Cliff to Fräulein Schneider (Beverly Trask), who rents rooms.
If the Emcee generates the mood of the play and ties it together, the mood's home base is the Kit Kat Klub " where music, dance and glamorous showgirls lift the spirits of the clientele. The chorines can even dial up their admirers, because there are phones on all the tables.
Cliff soon gets entangled with Sally Bowles (Jessie Terrebonne), an English expatriate who is one of the stars of the Kit Kat. Sally is adrift in this dissolute nocturnal world. She maintains her equilibrium " or dis-equilibrium " with gin. When she's dumped by the jealous tycoon who was keeping her, she arrives at Cliff's door with suitcase in hand. How will he work on his novel with this female tornado tearing around his room? Nonetheless, he can't resist. They become an item.
When Sally gets pregnant, Cliff wants to take her with him to the United States. He's in love. He would make a terrific father. Furthermore, he doesn't see the German political situation as merely a trifling annoyance, as Sally does. He has read Mein Kampf, and he sees the Nazis as the harbingers of a deadly social epidemic that will engulf them all.
Meanwhile, Fräulein Schneider is courted by Herr Schultz (Bob Edes, Jr.), a Jewish fruit merchant. His greatest gift to her is a pineapple. She almost faints with emotion. They get engaged and set the date.
Of course, there are political storm clouds gathering. What Ernst is smuggling is not stockings and perfume, but money for the Nazis. Soon we hear the unnerving anthem 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me" sung by the Kit Kat's matre d' (Scott Sauber) and waiters as though performed by a corps of Nazi Youth. Swastika armbands and a brick thrown through Herr Schultz's store window are all we see of the coming violence, and all we need to see.
'Sally, wake up," Cliff insists, 'The party's over! We're going to Pennsylvania." But Sally can't tear herself away from her doomed, bejeweled spiderweb.
These complications are clearly and stylishly presented. Directors Derek Franklin and Sonny Borey have once again put together a smash. A special tip of the hat goes to choreographer Karen Hebert for the inventive dance numbers.
The songs are often memorable and well sung. 'The Money Song" is a classic, of course. But that's only one of many. The 'gorilla girl" number, in which the Emcee romances a flirtatious ape, reminds us the different forms racism can take. 'If you could see her through my eyes," croons the Emcee, 'she wouldn't look Jewish at all!"
Terrebonne belts out some beauts (including the title song/finale) as does Arnold, who manages to play a straight-on sort of guy without losing our interest. The two leads are a good match. Haylock also did the eye-catching costumes, while Sauber designed the lighting.
This is a buoyant show that's entertaining and troubling at the same time. But after all, it's set in the slide toward the Holocaust and World War II; it should be. CABARET
DIRECTED BY DEREK FRANKLIN & SONNY BOREY
STARRING JESSIE TERREBONNE, ROY HAYLOCK, RICHARD ARNOLD, JIMMY MURPHY, BEVERLY TRASK, AND BOB EDES, JR.
8 p.m. FRI.-Sat., 2 P.m sun., through June 29
LE PETIT THEATRE DU VIEUX CARRE, 616 ST. PETER ST., 522-2081; WWW.LEPETITTHEATRE.COM