by Sara Edlin-Marlowe

Cabaret came to life first in a collection of short stories by Christopher Isherwood entitled Berlin Stories; it then evolved into John Van Druten's play, I Am a Camera. Through the years, I was fortunate to see the original play (back in the home of the "chad," West Palm Beach, Fla.) plus catch the musical on Broadway in the late '60s. Changes came in the movie (which catapulted a young Liza Minnelli to fame) with the addition of a young Jewish couple, a corrupt Baron, and the addition of a song, "Maybe This Time."

Cabaret is a show that remains fresh and poignant; it's a reminder of how the world wore rose-colored glasses while the encroaching malignancy of the Nazi nation turned Germany and the world into a galaxy of horror.

Although this is a dark musical, full of foreboding and foreshadowing, Cabaret is also a tantalizing display of life in decadent Berlin just before Hitler's rise to power.

Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre's production is dazzling and mesmerizing. Under the deft direction of Marilyn Langbehn, we are drawn into the excesses of the Kit Kat Club and into Fraulein Schneider's boarding house; we re-live the experiences of this fated group of people. The darkness mixes with the glitz, and we enjoy this ebullient life, but are intermittently reminded of the cloud that hangs over the city, ever ready to transform the decadence into evil.

Choreography by Cherie Price (who did an excellent job in Pajama Game two years ago) was exciting and held us in thrall as we were drawn along the spider's web; the musical numbers are interspersed imaginatively into the story. I'm an Ebb and Kander fan (music by Kander, lyrics by Ebb); the music is haunting and poignant, thrilling and frightening. The orchestra, under the able baton of musical director Scarlet Hepworth, was excellent.

As for the performers, brilliant performances by Patrick Treadway as the Emcee, Jennifer Niederloh as Sally Bowles and Randee Heller as Fraulein Schneider top the list. Also add the superb work of Amy Ross as Fraulein Kost. The fabulous voices of these three women captivated me with each and every one of their musical numbers. We are struck by the bite and irony of Treadway in his role as Emcee, and those chilling moments when the soldiers sing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," reprised eerily by Fraulein Kost at the end of Act One. In Act Two, the blatantly racist slur in "If You Could See Her," where Ryan Montgomery is the loveable gorilla (a Jew, in disguise) dancing with the Emcee. Solid performances by Chris Warren Murry as Cliff, Roger Welch as Herr Ludwig and Jack Bannon as Herr Schultz round out this fine ensemble.

One must mention the singers and dancers that completed the ensemble. Special mention goes to Meagan Maddox, Katherine Strohmaier, Frank Jewett, Ryan Montgomery and Joe Ford. Without the support of these talented individuals, and the remaining Kit Kat Girls and Boys, the production would not have the seamless tapestry that Cabaret requires.

Technically, the costumes were fantastic. So many wonderful fabrics on stage -- the torn opera hose of the Kit Kat girls, the crushed velvet of Sally, the buttoned-down look of Cliff. Kudos to costume designer Judith McGiveney and also to her husband, Michael, whose lights illuminated the story in a way that helped draw us into the tawdry changing world of Berlin just before WWII.

The silhouettes of undulating dancers at the beginning and the soldiers at the end were perfect; and the gobo at the end with the chilling words "Arbeit Macht Frei," (which translates as "Work Makes You Free" -- a sign that was above all entrances to the concentration camps) provides a stark reminder of what was to come.

Initially, I loved the idea of the orchestra on stage. It helps integrate the action with the singers and dancers mingling with the musicians; using the arches and stairways, you really feel as though you are there in the Kit Kat Club. But after the many times the bedroom scene was wheeled on and off the stage, you grew tired of the changes, in spite of the admirable efforts of the backstage crew.

Watch this ending carefully, there's a lot said in those last few moments; however, some clarity is needed between that Finale Ultimo and the curtain call so that we, the audience, know when it is time to applaud the performers and musicians for a job well done.

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
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