You’d never know it from Liza Minnelli’s performance in the 1972 Bob Fosse film, but Sally Bowles—one of the great female star vehicles in musical theater—is an Englishwoman. Billie Wildrick brings her a very British dash in Village Theatre’s Cabaret, adding hints of Auntie Mame and Eliza Doolittle to her ability to play both flamboyance and anguish and to sell a song—which climaxes just where it should, in her 11 o’clock number, the title tune. Yet the rest of the cast is strong enough never to risk being drowned out. As Cliff, the writer who falls for her, Brian David Earp is impressively solid in a part that gives him little more to do than react to the madness around him. Anne Allgood is powerful, without caricature, as their landlady, Fraulein Schneider, and Peter Crook’s Herr Schultz downplays the threat of the Third Reich heartbreakingly. Matthew Smucker’s decoratively cluttered set is ingenious and eye-filling, and the pit band, under Tim Symons’ direction, is the most stirring I’ve heard at Village Theatre.
All the ingredients are there, but the show nevertheless lacks atmosphere—a sense of gathering doom. For example, take “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” the peak of sinister genius in composer John Kander’s score, a gemutlich waltz perverted into an ominous anthem of Aryan conquest; as sung by an angelic lad (Matthew Bratton and Jaryn Lasentia share the role), it is—can’t help but be—stomach-turningly creepy. But it comes out of nowhere; it’s an effective theatrical shock, but a jolting one, since it’s the first point in the performance that you’re reminded that, oh yeah, this is Germany in the ’30s.
And as hard as the chorus, led by Jason Collins’ malevolent Emcee, works to bring to life the louche performers of the Kit Kat Club and make splashy fun out of the production numbers, there’s not an atom of eroticism from start to finish—and thus no way for sex and doom to play off each other, which to my mind is pretty much the point of Cabaret. Sure, there are plenty of giggly doppel-entendres in Joe Masteroff’s book, but, as my plus-one remarked as we left, this is a PG-13 show. If you’ve been looking for a Cabaret to which you can take the kids, you’re in luck; you may have to explain a few plot points about racism, prostitution, and abortion, but, trust me, any given Teatro ZinZanni show is considerably randier.
CABARET Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N. (Issaquah), 425-392-2202. $35–$67. Runs through July 3; see villagetheatre.org for schedule. (Moves to Everett July 10–Aug. 2.)