Watching Hallbauer perform in her rather manic and mesmerizing style, we are as fascinated by Sally as she is fascinated by herself. I would willingly see this consummate actress play a major part in Shaw, Wilde, Pinter or other classic writers of the English theater.
As the Emcee, Quinn Knox is both welcoming and slightly creepy. Though his performance is more camp than drag, Knox’s makeup includes a pair of gargantuan eyebrows that would be an ideal accoutrement for any man who in his professional life inhabits the body and soul of a diva. For much of Act One, the actor circles the elongated Pierce stage with an energetic bounce, like an aerobics instructor motivating his students.
In Act Two, Knox’s far more subdued personality signals to the audience that the Nazis are not just coming, they’re here. The closing of the Kit Kat Club will soon be the least of Germany’s – and the world’s -- problems.
As Fraulein Schneider, the middle-aged landlady in love with a Jewish man, Katie Watts-Whitaker is tender and warm. When the inevitable occurs, and her marriage to Herr Schultz (a delightful Matt DeHaven) must be put on hold, Fraulein Schneider stands prepared to face the latest German catastrophe with the steely pragmatism that got her through World War I and revolution in the streets.
With the house lights up, and before the Pierce production officially begins, the skimpy-attired ladies of the Kit Kat Club walk on to center stage, chatting among themselves and going through their stretching exercises. You don’t have to be a dirty old man to notice that the women are not infrequently flat on their backs and opening their legs, or thrusting their rear ends in the air.
This is what is known as setting the tone, or if you prefer, establishing the mood. Denise Gibson’s choreography, a series of simulations and suggestions, sets many of these same moves to music. In this staging of “Cabaret,” it’s the dancing more than the songs that let us know that the Kit Kat Club represents the pleasure of acting and being naughty, with an occasional nod toward decadence.
Gene Putnam’s direction adroitly alternates between the silly and sweet character of middle-class Berlin and the smoky sensuality of the club. Here we see that there were good Germans, in the non-ironic sense of the term, and bad Germans, particularly Ernst Ludwig (a solid Scott Aaronson), the Nazi. Putnam presents each as the symbol for a nation that brought such misery and terror into the world during the first half of the 20th century.
In 2014, Berlin, home of many artists, bohemians, and sex clubs, is much more the city of the Emcee and Sally Bowles than Adolf Hitler. It takes nothing from the drama and power of “Cabaret” to think there is justice in that.
“Cabaret” plays Friday, December 12 at 8 p.m., Saturday, December 13 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday, December 14, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for students and seniors and $20 general admission. Tickets may be purchased by calling 818-719-6488 or online at http://brownpapertickets.com. The production is being staged in the Temporary Performing Arts Complex.
Image 1: Michelle Hallbauer as Miss Sally Bowles, with the "Kit Kat Girls," in LAPC Theatre's production of "Cabaret," on stage through Dec. 14. Photo by Nico Heredia
Image 2: Michelle Hallbauer stars as Miss Sally Bowles in LAPC Theatre's production of "Cabaret," on stage through Dec. 14. Photo by Nico Heredia
Image 3: Quinn Knox stars as the Emcee in LAPC Theatre's production of "Cabaret," on stage through Dec. 14. Photo by Nico Heredia