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A sobering return to Berlin in revival of “Cabaret”

APRIL 26, 2018 – Christopher Isherwood compared himself to “a camera, with its shutter open” in his 1939 novel, “Goodbye to Berlin.” Director-choreographer Rachel Bertone’s powerfully disturbing revival of the pre-Holocaust Broadway musical, “Cabaret,” which was developed from Isherwood’s stories, is an important reflection of the fall of the Weimar Republic that led to the rise of Hitler and the death of six million Jews in Nazi concentration camps.

Bertone’s brilliant revival for Moonbox Productions, at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion through April 29, resonates with added timeliness post Charlottesville’s neo-Nazi march as a warning against apathy. Her effort proves as unforgettable as its Broadway predecessors.

As with the Tony Award-winning revival starring Alan Cumming, the welcoming Emcee moves chameleon-like from master of ceremonies to Nazi supporter and finally to victim along with others wearing the yellow badge (Jews) and/or the pink triangle (gays). (Jewish actor Joel Grey, the first to play the Broadway role, won a Tony in 1966 and an Academy Award for the film version in 1972.)

The seedy Kit Kat Club in Berlin is just as decadent and the performers just as raunchy. Janie E. Howland has designed the club with a metaphorical tilt that reminds audience members at all times that Berlin and Germany are quickly and inexorably giving way to Nazism.

A capable cast brings home this landmark musical’s undeniable messages as well. Phil Tayler has the agility and commanding presence that Cumming brought to his Tony-deserving performance as the Emcee, especially in the signature number “Wilkommen” and the chillingly ironic solo “I Don’t Care Much.” Aimee Doherty brings fresh insight to the role of apolitical English headliner Sally Bowles. Her building, belt-rich rendition of the famous title number has both devil- may-care abandon and sadness as she looks to the empty chair where boyfriend Clifford Bradshaw, who fled Germany, used to sit.

Tellingly, the cast takes no bow after the Holocaust-connected final exit of badge-wearing Jews and gays. As yet, hatred sadly has no curtain as this revival warns.

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Leave it to “On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” shows the Grammy-winning husband and wife team (26 awards between them) beginning a major part of their career at a bar mitzvah.

Stretching from Gloria’s Cuban roots to her stirring comeback from a very severe 1990 bus tour accident, the hit musical (two years on Broadway) features a first act-closing showstopper “Conga” that finds the big talents early on working to persuade a major producer that their music is not merely a Miami Sound and deserves a full American launch.

The energetic show plays at the Boston Opera House through April 29.

On opening night, a terrific young performer named Carlos Carreras (Jordan Vergara alternates at some performances) proves a scene-stealer as the bar mitzvah boy and actually displays his considerable technique and style during the full eye-catching “Conga.”

Alexander Dinelaris’s book may suffer at times from schmaltz and the realities of the music business, but Sergio Trujillo’s sharp choreography, a high-energy cast, and the show’s infectious rhythm and goodwill make “On Your Feet” truly happen.

“Cabaret” at the Boston Center for the Arts. 617-933-8600 or visit bostontheatrescene.com.

“On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” at the Boston Opera House. 800-982-2787 or boston.broadway.com.

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