Tomorrow Belongs To Me... Cabaret shines in Park Slope

The unforgettable musical “Cabaret,'' onstage at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn's Park Slope

Tomorrow Belongs To Me... Cabaret shines in Park Slope

Park Slope

Berlin. 1931.

Outside the dark, sinister nightclub here, in the center of the decadent universe, there is panic in the streets as Europe verges on upheaval. Inside, life is kinky.

The orchestra comes to its senses with a peppy but strangely distorted tune. Bodies, in all stages of dress and undress, grind to the beat. Suddenly the emcee, bald and tall with a wicked smirk, glittery, red high heels and a garter belt to match, takes the stage and snarls into the microphone. It's showtime at the Kit Kat Klub.

“Welcome.''

This is the unforgettable opening of the musical “Cabaret,'' onstage at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn's Park Slope through September 29, marking the award-winning off-off Broadway theater company's triumphant 53rd year. The timeless tale of love, lust, drug addiction and the overwhelming thirst for stardom plays out against the unstoppable rise of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich. A keen sense of dread permeates everything the characters do and say, although no one knows what, exactly, is coming.

It is here that we meet our damaged heroine, Sally Bowles (Erica Lustig). Unlike the movie starring the megatalented American Liza Minnelli as Sally and Michael York as Brian Roberts, her English, bisexual lover, this production is true to the 1998 Broadway musical. Both works, however diverge greatly from the novel they're based on, Christopher Isherwood's “The Berlin Stories/Goodbye to Berlin,'' which presents Sally's counterpart as a gay man.

In this production, Sally is a transplanted Englishwoman, struggling to make a name for herself in Germany despite indulging in a laundry-list of vices, including questionable men. Her lover, one of many, is named Clifford Bradshaw in this play (Jonas Barranca), an American writer who gives English lessons to pay the bills as he tries and fails to complete his novel.

Most of us are familiar with the iconic movie: Sally and Brian fall in lust. Sally becomes pregnant, although she's not certain of the identity of the child's father. Brian wants to marry her anyway. It should be settled. But as the song goes, “Life is a cabaret, old chums.'' It is clear that nothing is going to be easy, or work out as planned, when the music plays.

The show keeps this basic narrative, while flipping the nationalities of the two main characters, both gifted performers, although few can come close to Minnelli's magic. Fortunately, the Sally character is written as a crooner in a dank, little nightclub, not a star.

And yet, bravura performances are given by a number of the dancers, the backbones of the show. Especially good is Brian Edward Levario, who plays the emcee with a deliciously wicked sneer. He prances, shimmies and takes over the stage with a gleeful degeneracy that will soon be stamped out by Nazi storm troopers. However, the character appears to be ready for this reversal of fortune. In one scene, his gender-bending costume is covered by a Nazi uniform, a glimpse of his future as one of the Third Reich's finest.

Throughout, we hear various renditions of the chilling song, “Tomorrow Belongs To Me.'' The piece at first sounds harmless, a celebration of pleasant days to come. But then, the singer raises his arm in a Nazi salute, revealing an arm band adorned with a swastika, and the ditty becomes infused with a sense of foreboding. It is a warning of atrocities to come, more effective and frightening than any overt acts of violence.

A subplot develops as Sally and Cliff's landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Liz Gurland) falls in love with a man who happens to be Jewish. But she calls off her engagement to Herr Schultz (Paul Page) when it becomes clear that, despite his protestations - “I am a German'' – this won't save him, or his would-be wife, from Hitler's soon-to-be death machine.

Sally and Cliff's romance quickly hits a speed bump. She cannot imagine herself as an American housewife, buried in diapers and depression. Cliff, too, displays a dark side that does not reveal itself in the classic movie, and he slaps Sally in the face, a frightening moment. She drowns her sorrows, drinking and ingesting drugs up her nose. Then she undergoes an abortion. The romance is over and she choses to remain in Berlin.

Sally is imagined here as a sub-par singer, although she belts it out powerfully with her spririted rendition of “Life Is a Cabaret.'' The show ends just before National Socialism puts a stranglehold on Germany and spreads to most of Europe.

Some will, undoubtedly, compare the musical to events taking place today, but Hitler's absolute evil has few parallels. Let's think of “Cabaret'' as its own masterpiece, seamlessly contrasting a few, innocent people with a culture so virulent and grostesque, one can only hope we never see its like again.

 

Beyond Brooklyn

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