“Hello, ladies! I’m Bobby,” says an eyeliner-smudged dancer as he straddles my roommate and runs a finger from my knee into my boot.
Welcome to Berlin.
“Are you two dirty girls?” he asks with a scrunch-nosed smile. “Mm I can tell zat you are.”
Welcome to Berlin.
“Do you vant anysing to drink?” He blows a raspberry and makes thumbs down to our declination. “Party poopers. I’ll be back later.” He sashays away, his black vest flapping over bare abs.
When you first slip through the front door, up the dark stairs and across the postage-stamp lobby of the MET Theatre, you expect something smarter than a strip club, sassier than High School Musical and more interactive than an IMAX movie.
Welcome to “Cabaret,” where there are no troubles — or so they say.
It helps to be 21.
As you watch the Kit Kat boys in tux pants, bow ties and vests, and girls in bloomers and the kind of brassiere your grandmother wears perch their toe on a pink husband’s knee or wrap their thigh around the waist of a darting-eyed girlfriend they pulled onstage, you’re going to want a gin and tonic.
Luckily, the actors double as servers, there to tuck your drink order and your cash into a garter belt in exchange for liquoring you up.
By the time the first oompah notes of the orchestra — led by musical director and conductor Greg Hakke — add to the din, there’s already a buzz in the 99-seat playhouse.
The emcee (Eduardo Enrikez) teeters out from under the mirrored central arch of the fiery, minimalist set by Victoria Bellocq, inspired by painter Paul Klee. He sports a web of suspenders with a juicy bowtie caught over his chest hair, dollish makeup, clown-like military boots and a suit jacket. He croons Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome! to the semi-fondled crowd, and we believe him. His German accent is cut with a dose of affectation, but his words permeate the cozy (if partially vacant) audience without the aid of a wireless mike.
Our host formally introduces us to Lulu, Texas, Frenchie, Rosie, Fritzie, Helga, Swing, Bobby, Victor, Hans and Herman; but at this point, we’re already pretty intimate.
Nonetheless, you’re going to want a rum and coke when the emcee announces that “Each and every one” of the Kit Kat girls is a virgin, then asks, “Don’t believe me? Try Helga,” slips his hand between her legs, licks his fingers and, evidently, “tries” her.
This shocking (but uproariously appreciated) humor is the star of director Judy Norton’s show, upstaging the heart-rending plotline and robbing tender moments of their authenticity.
Set in 1931 Germany and obliquely detailing the rise of the Nazi party through the experiences of American novelist Clifford Bradshaw (played very straightforwardly by Michael Bernardi), “Cabaret” has the potential to be a dynamo of human compassion. It can assail audience members’ defenses with the hard truths about war and power, and prod the dark humor out of one of the bleakest chapters in modern human history: the Holocaust.
On a more temporal level, Kalinda Gray’s rendition of Sally Bowles, the 19-year-old English leading lady of the Berlin nightclub around which the play revolves, delivers a crushing performance with the namesake ballad “Cabaret.” The ebullience of Act I is utterly sapped from her body as she fights pointless tears in her final number.
Even though at the outset her character is “living in delicious sin,” as Sally puts it, a transformation from naïveté to world-weariness is solidified for the first time as she huskily belts, Start by admitting from cradle to tomb/ Isn’t that long a stay./ Life is a Cabaret, old chum [and] I love a Cabaret!
But you’re going to want a whiskey on the rocks when the emcee’s accent dissipates throughout the show until its bold reemergence in the final scenes.
You’re going to want one when opening-night jitters make the Fosse-esque choreography (by Tania Possick, who also plays Lulu) a little sloppy and too much like a real cabaret.
You’re going to want one when ready-made jokes fall flat — like Fraulein Schnider’s (Annalisa Erickson’s) insistence to Herr Schultz (huge-voiced Jayson Kraid), “You must not bring me any more pineapples, you hear? It is not proper. It is a gift that a young man would bring to his lady love; makes me blush!”
Or when the fairly inebriated audience giggles and cheers when the emcee asks at the close of the show, “Where are your troubles now — forgotten?” after a starkly more dramatic and deliberately troubling Act II.
Voices like those of Fraulein Kost (Josie Yount) and little Anna Ludwig (the tenacious and young Danielle Soibelman) chisel away at the sticker shock of a ticket, and the orgastic energy that the cast brings to the stage is unparalleled.
One can only hope that by the time “Cabaret” closes, it won’t need its alcoholic crutch to stun spectators.