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Cabaret at Northport’s John Engeman Theater Hits All the Right Notes

L to R: Audrey Senesse (Lulu); Christina Pawl (Rosie); Jon Peterson (Emcee); Laura Shoop (Fraulein Fritzie Kost); Eric Jetner (Bobby, Saxophone); Shana Mahoney (Texas); Richard Costa (Hans, Trombone)
Photo by Scott A. Kraft

Opening night of Cabaret at the John Engeman Theater in Northport was a bold performance by a group of dynamic actors and musicians backed up by an imaginative and effective set. This wonderful theater is true to its promise of bringing a Broadway experience to our town. Under the direction of BT McNicholl (winner of the Australian Helpman “Tony” award for his direction of Cabaret) the play and characters brought the audience through an unpredictable journey of frivolity, introspection and darkness. The doors to the theater open at seven and the tone was set with everyone from ticket holders to bartenders in costume. The classy wood paneled room dimly lit with plenty of red lighting was a cozy respite from the rain outside and did yeoman’s work pulling the crowd into an earlier era. The actors warmed up on stage while interacting with audience members finding their seats, establishing the illusion that one was indeed experiencing the backstage antics of the seedy Kit Kat Club.

Jon Peterson (Emcee) and Kelly Parades (Helga) Photo by AnnMarie Snyder

The play takes place in 1931 Berlin and revolves around the raunchy Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club. John Peterson’s role as the emcee was beautifully twisted. The lasciviousness of the opening dance and song numbers is in your face and meant to shock and unsettle. The salaciousness grows with each subsequent number. The Kit Kat club “family” is unapologetic in their self-indulgence and directionless lifestyle: they sell sex and ooze depravity. Along comes the verdant American writer, Clifford Bradshaw, (Adam Greer) who moves to Berlin looking for inspiration for his next novel. The allure of the Kit Kat Club sucks him in and he becomes enamored with its star, Englishwoman, Sally Bowles (Kate Fahrner). Sally has been indulging in booze, sexual liberation and drugs along with Berlin society but dreams of settling down with one man and one love. She may have found it with Clifford, an ingénue with conflicted sexual desires. An unexpected pregnancy complete with uncertain paternity gives both characters something to seize on as a way to normalize and lend meaning to their lives. They both settle into more disciplined roles as a steady couple preparing for a family. Sally, we soon find out, is her own worst enemy and we witness her self-loathing and destruction.

Kate Fahrner (Sally Bowles) Photo by AnnMarie Snyder

The subplot is a romance between an elder spinster, Fraulein Schneider, played beautifully by Lori Wilner, and a loveable widower, Herr Schultz (Scott Robertson). The two become engaged but as the rise of nationalism and the threat of the Nazi regime grow it infects every relationship including theirs. Herr Schultz is a Jew, previously of no significance but suddenly so threatening that it is even looked down upon by the Kit Kat girl Fritzie, who earns her rent by whoring. As Clifford struggles to find a way to raise money to take care of Sally and a baby he studies the politics of Hitler and is outraged. He tries to engage Sally and Fraulein Schneider to stand up against this evil that is spreading like wildfire across the nation but he is ineffectual in saving anyone but himself. This play lends itself to many interpretations and questions: given the choice of standing up for what’s right or protecting your own skin which would you choose? Does a society that revels in relativistic morals and bohemian lifestyles set itself up for a take over by a strong-handed government that offers security in the black and white of right and wrong. Do human beings need firm boundaries in order to survive?

Scott Robertson (Herr Schultz) and Lori Wilner (Fraulein Schneider) Photo by AnnMarie Snyder

The play has many layers, as do the characters. Kate Fahrner is brilliant with her powerful and emotional songs. Jon Peterson’s playful multi dimensional and ever present character as the emcee is at once wonderful and depraved. The opening impression of the characters as the misfits of society changes and by the end we feel more connected to the humanness of these transvestites, whores, strippers and bisexuals than that of the clean-cut, colorless (shown beautifully by the set and costumes) and hateful Nazi regime. This R rated production is a show not to be missed if you are looking for great song and dance numbers performed by talented actors that provoke a bit more introspection than your typical boy meets girl musical. The long standing ovation at the end of the show was strong evidence we had lots of company enjoying the show just as much as we did.

*** click on  photos to enlarge

John W Engeman Theater At Northport, 250 Main Street, Northport, NY 11768 (631) 261-2900,

Cabaret runs from February 3, 2011 – March 27, 2011, tickets are $60.

Show times are:

Thursday 8:00pm  Friday 8:00pm

Saturday 3:00pm & 8:00pm

Sunday 2:00pm & 7:00pm

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