Stacking the Decadent

The Academy Award-winning movie Cabaret is available at your local video store (even supermarket), with career-defining performances by Joel Grey, Liza Minnelli and Michael York. So why not snuggle up with some microwave popcorn and give it a replay? Why would you want to drive all the way out to a barn in Glendale to see a community-theatre troupe (refugees from regular jobs at Bank of America and Target) sing and dance their hearts out? I'll tell you why. The name of the group says it all: Theater Works.

Looking around at the faces of the audience members as they were captivated by the scantily clad bodies teasing them with erotic gyrations to a tempting beat of delicious decadence, I realized that no one has ever watched an old movie at home with such expressions of sheer bliss. No matter that the singing is more enthusiastic than on pitch; no matter that the acting is more an indication of behavior than an embodiment of characterization; no matter that Cabaret was never on the cutting edge to begin with at its theatrical premiäre more than 25 years ago. What matters is this: Theatre is alive, and there is something about a rhythmic, pulsating dancer only a few feet away inviting you back to sinful old Berlin that makes the heart beat faster and brings a grin to the lips.

What is terrific here is the first-rate choreography of Noel Irick, whose dancers give this show a rousing life of naughty insinuation. Costumes plunge to show a calculated flash of cleavage, shapely thighs entice behind shimmering strings of beads. These girls have seen it all, and have fun sharing it with you. And they are virgins, every one. If you don't believe me, ask them.

Christie Reay's musical direction keeps the show tuneful and vibrant, making a few instruments sound like a full orchestra. Gregory Jaye's set design makes imaginative use of a limited space, providing spectacle as a sleight of hand. Director Peter J. Hill keeps the action moving and his actors simple--no mean accomplishment with amateurs. As for the cast, Gerry Loveland's Herr Schultz is a charmer, played with more warmth and less self-consciousness than the great Jack Gilford did in the original. Pat Grover makes an appealing Frulein Schneider, although one can hardly be blamed for reminiscing about Lotte Lenya (in New York) and Lila Kedrova (in London). David McKibben is a chilling Ernst and Ross Collins an honest Clifford; only Susan Miller-Dee fails to achieve the full dimensions of her character, Sally Bowles. Lacking the physical attributes that could make her a cabaret star, and without the slightest hint of authenticity about her supposed British accent, Miller-Dee nevertheless entertains and touches us.

Appropriately, the best of the evening is the luminous performance of the Master of Ceremonies, Stephen Goodfriend. He sings and dances like a professional, and his deft use of a brittle, ironic sneer keeps the dangers of sentiment outside where he would say they belong. It is a masterly evocation of Nazi power.

At one point, Clifford says about Berlin: "I love this town. It's so tacky and terrible, and everybody's having such a good time." This could be Phoenix, if you'll get off that sofa and leave behind that boring television tripe you're watching. If you aren't quite ready for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, at least get over to Glendale and have some fun. After all, what good is sitting alone in your room . . . ?

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Marshall W. Mason