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BEST REMOUNT Phoenix 2004 - Desert Stages' Cabaret

When the nice folks at Desert Stages remounted their rip-snorting production of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret last December, it was a holiday gift to all of us who couldn't get tickets to the show's original sold-out run the summer before. The glory of this particular production is that this perennial musical is usually mauled by college theater troupes and small, earnest companies like Desert Stages -- the familiar score is best served by big voices, and Joe Masteroff's wicked translation of Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories needs a wider acting talent than is usually found among amateur thespians. Which is what made Desert Stages' superb staging all the more impressive. Songs like "Money" and "Don't Tell Mama" benefited from exactly the kind of rough talent that director/choreographers Gerry and Laurie Cullit cast here -- the very sort of talent one would have found at the Kit Kat Klub. The excellent, stripped-down staging crammed the show onto catwalks and into stairwells, transforming the troupe's smallish black box (they've since moved to bigger, tonier digs) into a seamy nightclub where musical numbers began in the flies and slithered onto a cramped, dirty stage. We're still crowing about this one, which made us want to "come to the cabaret, old chum" again and again.

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