By Stephanie ottey
“What good is sitting alone in your room” when you can see “Cabaret”? The hit Kander and Ebb musical is now playing at the Youngstown Playhouse.
Winner of heaps of awards, “Cabaret” follows an aspiring writer, his entertainer girlfriend, and their spinster landlady as they struggle to realize their dreams when the Nazis come to power.
The show itself, though not overtly action-packed, is full of potential. Many scenes are open to interpretation so that the script and score can make a political, moral or artistic statement.
Director Frank J. Lucas makes safe choices, but without a firm concept, the production is flat at times — the dramatic build is slight, and there is no hugely dramatic climax.
On opening night, there was a surprising lack of energy; Act One is almost two hours long due to long pauses and slow pacing.
That is not to say the show is lackluster — there are plenty of bright performances that are worth seeing.
Joanna Andrei takes on the central character of Sally Bowles. Vocally and physically strong, Andrei is a firm presence on stage. She exudes confidence, making her easy to watch. She plays opposite her real-life husband, John Chambers, who makes his stage debut as the mild-mannered Clifford Bradshaw.
Christina Hovanec isn’t quite right for the role of the matronly landlady, Frauline Schneider, but only because of her youthfulness on stage. The character needs to appear to be weathered and, other than a barely frumpy sweater, no effort was made to age Hovanec. However, she creates a nice character, commits to it, and is remarkably likeable — despite the miscasting.
Her counterpart, Russ Nalepa, is a very charming Herr Schultz. His performance is genuine and all the more likeable because of it.
David El’Hatton lends his talents to the villainous Ernst Ludwig, giving the character a nicely layered depth.
Vaughn Schmidt is an entertaining “Master of Ceremonies.” He clearly has fun in the role, giving the audience reason to have fun watching him.
The girls of the Kit Kat Klub are the clear highlights of the show. Ashley Balas, Kayla Boye, Brianne Kochunas, Lexi Mellinger, Rosie Jo Neddy and Emelia Sherin are beautiful, sexy and ideally cast as cabaret dancers. Their collective dance ability elevates the quality of the production, as does Colleen Chance’s choreography. Chance’s design is stimulating — she creates lovely pictures with the girls.
The musical direction of Nicholas Samson is a welcome addition to this production, as well. The band for “Cabaret” is unified and energetic. Unfortunately, the sound design remains unbalanced through much of the production, leaving some bits of important dialogue unheard as the lively band plays in the background.
Still, “Cabaret” is a classic piece of musical theater history, and fans should take time to see the show while they can.
“Cabaret” runs through next Sunday. The Youngstown Playhouse is at 600 Playhouse Lane, Youngstown. Performances are at 2:30 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. next Sunday. For more information, call 330-788-8739.