Newcomers to “Cabaret” might briefly be disarmed by the Kit Kat Klub’s Emcee when he promises there is “no trouble here.” Repeat patrons at the John Kander/Fred Ebb landmark musical know better.
Joe Masteroff’s insightful script immediately joins their powerful score in inviting audience members to confront the early 1930s rise of Nazi Germany.
Through Aug. 10, the Ogunquit Playhouse is following up on a 2006 edition with a haunting new revival under the taut direction of B.T. McNicholl. In an age of neo-Nazism and virulent hate crimes, this resonant staging proves as timely as ever.
William Ivey Long’s Broadway costumes for the Kit Kat girls and boys brilliantly capture the decadence of the pre-Nazi Weimar Republic. Even musicians wear handsome vests over otherwise bare chests. Audience members – some at near-stage cabaret tables – will quickly share American novelist Clifford Bradshaw’s experience as he learns firsthand about the anti-Semitism pervading Berlin. Theater-goers also will recognize the apathy and cluelessness of people like club vocalist Sally Bowles while they savor the entertainment at the Kit Kat Club.
As always, “Cabaret” brilliantly captures the enticing liveliness of high-kicking dance numbers – kudos to choreographer Andrea Leigh – as well as the growing acceptance of Nazi control. At the same time, lead and pivotal featured characters adopt a wide range of points of view: the Emcee from chameleon-like German to Holocaust gay Jewish victim wearing both a pink triangle and a yellow star; Sally from free spirit to insecure wanderer; Bradshaw from naiveté to taking a stand; Fräulein Schneider a consistent survivor at all costs; and Herr Schultz, a proud Jewish citizen deluding himself about the danger of the Third Reich.
There is nothing delusional about the stellar Ogunquit cast. Randy Harrison has all of Emcee’s attitude and moves from insinuating impresario to vulnerable loner with ease. Look for Harrison to involve the audience (as Alan Cumming did on Broadway) by dancing briefly one moment with a woman and another with a man. He smartly makes a case for the club and Emcee’s ensemble on the expository opening, “Wilkommen.” By contrast, he brings deep pathos to the irony-rich solo, “I Don’t Care Much.”
Kate Shindle catches Sally’s determination and hope on “Maybe This Time.” Her delivery of the famous title number possesses an impressive buildup and a persuasive moment of introspection. As Cliff, Billy Harrigan Tighe finds bisexual Bradshaw’s feeling for Sally and his intensity in opposing the Nazis.
A particular distinction about Ogunquit’s revival is the pairing of Mariette Hartley as Schneider and John Rubinstein as Schultz. Hartley captures Schneider’s general decency even as she despairs about the impossibility of marrying Schultz. Her rendition of “What Would You Do?” is heart-wrenchingly good. Rubinstein is winningly charming as Schultz – especially on the romantic number “Married.” Quite frankly, Hartley and Robinson capture the sweetness and eventual sadness of Schneider and Schultz’s relationship more than any of the other many pairings I’ve seen.
Nazis and their supporters sing a xenophobic anthem called “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Ogunquit’s intense “Cabaret” makes a vivid cautionary defense not to be missed.
“Cabaret” at the Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St., through August 10. For tickets, call 207-646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.