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Theatre Review (San Diego): Cabaret at Old Town Theatre

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The Cygnet Theatre Company is a local San Diego company that does superb work. In my review of their The Norman Conquest Trilogy I stated that I thought they were as good as anything I had seen at La Jolla or The Old Globe. Their current offering, Cabaret by Joe Masteroff and Kander and Ebb, is up to this same high quality although I did have a reservation about the wisdom of casting a woman in the Emcee role, a role made famous by Joel Grey and later played by the likes of Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Alan Cumming, Raul Esparza, and Neil Patrick Harris to name but a few. Cabaret was also an Academy Award-winning film starring Mr. Grey, Michael York, and Liza Minnelli.

(Pictured: Sally Bowles (Joy Yandell) leads the Kit Kat Girls of “Cabaret” in the number “Don’t Tell Mama” at Cygnet Theatre. Credit: Daren Scott)image of Cabaret at the Cygnet Theatre

The current production at the Cygnet may not be able to boast a cast like the original or revival on Broadway, nor should it be unfairly compared to the movie, which took great liberties with the story, cutting music, adding songs, and with Liza Minnelli in the role, distorting the role of Sally Bowles—who is supposed to be a mediocre performer down on her luck—into a vehicle for a superstar. Nevertheless the cast at the Cygnet is really a very talented group, led by Joy Yandell as Sally, Broadway-caliber Charlie Reuter as Cliff, Linda Libby as Frau Schneider, Jim Chovick as Herr Schultz, a strong Jason Heil as Ernest, and Marlene Montes as Frenchie. They all give good professional performances and most important, make the show work. The direction by the talented Artistic Director Sean Murray and the wonderful workable set by Sean Fanning (who also did the superb set for The Norman Conquests) only add to this distinguished production.

Karson St. John plays The Emcee. She is a very talented actress and confident performer but I suspect was cast to give a woman a shot at this iconic role and/or to provide a twist on the show. Well, if you are going to cast a woman in the role, Ms. St. John would be a great choice. She is sexy, sings and dances well, and can be menacing, but a woman in Nazi gear does not conjure up the terror of an SS soldier. She runs the risk of being cute. Joel Grey was, in my estimation, too cute and not menacing in the role, but some of the others listed above would have been my choice. There is also a strong suggestion of homosexuality or at least bisexuality about the role. I think a man works better, to provide a push to the Cliff character to further explore his homosexuality.

Cabaret plays in San Diego’s Old Town Theatre until May 15.

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About Robert Machray

  • Wish I could have seen Joel Grey in the role on Broadway. Alan Cumming was superb in the revival. A female Emcee… strange.