Raleigh Little Theatre
Through June 28

Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Cabaret might be the only RLT production where you can take both your mom and that girl you met at Hot Topic. Haskell Fitz-Simons’ direction of the classic Kander/Ebb musical takes its cues from the darker, more sexualized revival that Sam Mendes helmed on Broadway in the late 1990s (where Raleigh’s Michael C. Hall played the M.C. prior to his roles on Six Feet Under and Dexter).

This version incorporates material from both the 1966 Broadway production and the 1972 film, but has a particular kink to it; the Kit Kat Klub has, from the beginning, the feeling of a den of iniquity with its underwear-clad dancers, and the sexually ambiguous Master of Ceremonies lurks over the action with an even more demonic presence. It’s a classic show, but this version highlights the edge lurking behind all those catchy songs.

By now, the story of the “divinely decadent” performer Sally Bowles (Shannon Pritchard-Cook) in 1930 Berlin is well known. Sally strikes up a relationship with bisexual writer Cliff Bradshaw (Jesse R. Gephart), a stand-in for Christopher Isherwood, who wrote the autobiographical stories that form the basis of the play.

As the casual couple enjoys the decadence of the Berlin party scene, Cliff starts to notice the rising power of the Nazi party, while their landlady Fräulein Schneider (Eraine Oakley) finds a last chance at love with the Jewish Herr Schultz (John Adams). The performances in the Kit Kat Klub ironically comment on the action, gradually deconstructing the nature of pre-war Berlin and the escapist nature of musicals themselves.

Of the performers, Mark Ridenour finds a creepy/ sympathetic vibe to the mellifluous M.C. (with his bald head and white makeup, he looks like a cross between Lex Luthor and the Joker), while Oakley finds some vulnerable notes in Schneider’s wariness. Pritchard-Cook’s voice doesn’t quite carry as Sally (though the character isn’t supposed to be a great singer anyway), though she fares better in the emotional moments.

“In here, life is beautiful!” chortles the M.C. in the opening number, but this particular interpretation of Cabaret emphasizes the ugliness of not only Nazi Germany, but the decadence used to block out the realities of the world. It’s a dark ride, but if you’re looking for an evening that combines classic musical theater with a modern edge, come to the Cabaret.

Correction (June 23, 2009): Per comment below re titular vs. opening song.