Stockings with garters, nightclub debauchery, the stirrings of the Nazis’ rise to power in 1930s Berlin — this is Cabaret, which some may consider too mature for high school students. But those appearing in this, the first summer production of the award-winning theater program at Santa Barbara High School in collaboration with Cheri Steinkellner and Upstage Left have risen to the challenge and demonstrate that they are more than capable of taking on such subject matter.
In the pivotal role of the Kit Kat Klub Emcee, played by Joel Grey in the 1972 film and more recently by Alan Cumming in the Broadway revival, Clayton Barry is spectacular, bringing his own interpretation while retaining the essential elements of the character. He is tall, lanky and rubber-faced, and his expressions suggest the edge of mania barely contained under a debonair surface. He is jaded, all-too-aware of the dangers outside of the cozy club, but delights in the decadence around them and in bringing the audience into that cocoon.
His “If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song),” with an uncredited Malcolm McCarthy as the gorilla, is well worth the price of admission. McCarthy has an incredible ability to turn on a dime from an authentically ape-like, knuckle-dragging crouch to perfect pirouettes and arabesques.
As free-spirited nightclub singer Sally Bowles, Xeni Tziouvaras certainly embraces the spirit of Liza Minnelli's role in the film, but also brings her own style. She even looks like Liza quite a bit — dark hair piled on top of her head instead of the pixie cut, but huge eyes and expressive lips, and man, can she sing. In Maybe This Time and Cabaret she gets the opportunity to really belt it out, but she also does a wonderful job with the more nuanced elements of Sally’s character — her impulsive, manipulative and childlike behavior.
Jordan Lemmond is solid in the role of young American writer Clifford Bradshaw, a perfect foil for Sally’s extravagant whims. He is earnest and hungry for adventure, fascinated by her, but not nearly as susceptible to her charms as she hopes.
Mary Cusimano is strong as the sad but hopeful Fräulein Schneider, in a doomed romance with a widowed Jewish fruit vendor. Especially in her songs “So What” and “What Would You Do?” she shows off a powerful voice and considerable acting chops.
As her suitor, Herr Schultz, David Childs brings an charming sweetness to the character and the chemistry between the two of them is strong. His attempts to reassure her that all would be well if they got married are heart-wrenchingly poignant, as we all know it will not end well.
The entire ensemble is fantastic, portraying Kit Kat Klub girls, waiters, sailors and assorted wastrels. Director Otto Layman, in his 18th year as Performing Arts Department chair at Santa Barbara High, seems to have given these young performers the necessary background and guidance to really sink their teeth into this dense material.
Choreographer Christina McCarthy, scenic designer Dave Guy, and costume designer Lise Lange all contribute their considerable talents to this fine production. John Douglas, musical director and keyboard player, leads the fine eight-piece orchestra with a steady hand, resulting in a big, beautiful sound.
As the song says, “What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play!” And this is a perfect opportunity to do just that — don’t miss it.
Cabaret plays at Santa Barbara High School’s auditorium, 700 E. Anapamu St., at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.. all 805.966.9101 x220 or click here.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.