It is astonishing and impressive that a ski town the size of Park City has a full Equity company like this one, and ETC continues to draw talented Salt Lake City actors to fill out its casts. But, in the course of filling out its seasons with the kind of musicals audiences generally embrace—Tommy, Little Shop of Horrors, Peter Pan, just to name recent examples—the company has at times bumped up against the limitations of its signature production space: the gorgeous Egyptian Theater and its not-built-for-grand-choreography stage.
Director Terence Goodman and his technical crew deserve a tremendous amount of credit, therefore, for staging a production of Cabaret that works so well with … well, what they’ve got to work with. In some ways, it’s actually an ideal production for a smaller venue—the setting of Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub circa 1929 makes it just right for the club’s bawdy emcee (Christopher Glade) to work right up to the edge of the stage and the audience members seated at tables there. The political context of the rise of the Nazi party may be grand in scale, but the romantic relationships—expatriate, bisexual American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Jon Brady Copier) and English showgirl Sally Bowles (Ginger Bess); spinster landlady Fraulein Schneider (Jayne Luke) and Jewish grocer Herr Schultz (Fredric Cook)—remain personal and intimate.
The show itself is a unique beast in the musical theater world, as composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb broke free from the genre’s bright-and-sunny traditions for something darker and more cynical like their later collaboration Chicago. Many of the tunes like “So What?” and “Married” don’t require big voices to do them justice, which allows for roles to be played by fine actors—like Luke and Cook—who aren’t necessarily classic belters. And in the character of the emcee, it has a grand centerpiece role with plenty of double-entendre that’s almost impossible to overplay—though Glade comes close, leering and dangling his tongue more often than Gene Simmons at a lollipop convention.
What it does have is multiple settings, and that could have been a major problem at the Egyptian. But Goodman has put together a crew that makes every technical element fit. Shawn Fisher’s sets are fluid enough to allow the Kit Kat Club to become Cliff’s room, or Herr Schultz’s store, or a train car, with a minimum of fuss. When longer set changes are required, Cole Adams’ lighting design does a terrific job of drawing attention upstage and away from the activities at the rear. And Janet Gray’s choreography seems perfectly conceived to spin the leggy Kit Kat girls through the available space. At times in the past, I’ve watched ETC shows and feared for the safety of actors trying to navigate a maze of props and set pieces. At Cabaret, things just seemed to fit.
That’s not to say it’s a flawless piece of theater. Copier at times seems a bit stiff playing a character who’s not exactly naïve, and it’s odd watching the conspicuously multicultural company performers take their turns as Hitler youth. At the performance I attended, it even seemed as though the radio frequency being used for the performers’ wireless microphones was picking up chatter from some other source; it’s amusing contemplating the other end of that transaction, a cell-phone conversation suddenly intruded upon by people singing with German accents. Those little glitches are going to happen to a little company, especially one that isn’t about to let the size of the house hold it down. When ETC makes it work like Cabaret works, the result is entirely willkommen, bienvenue, welcome.
CABARET @ Egyptian Theatre Company, 328 Main St., Park City, Through April 5, 435-649-9371