Review: ‘Cabaret’ at Theatre Aspen |

Review: ‘Cabaret’ at Theatre Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Theatre Aspen's "Cabaret" opened Friday and runs through Aug. 15.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

If You Go…

What: ‘Cabaret,’ presented by Theatre Aspen

Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park

When: Through Aug. 15

Tickets and more info:

It’s the end of the world and you’re dancing with Sally Bowles in Theatre Aspen’s intimate and highly stylized new production of “Cabaret.”

The company’s take on the Broadway classic, which opened June 26, immerses the audience in the seedy Kit Kat Club and the seductive, pansexual nightlife of pre-World War II Berlin.

Jon Peterson nails the bad-boy act and bawdy schmaltz of the debauched Emcee, around whom the show’s fabulous ensemble revolves.

Performing in numerous states of undress, Peterson brings a pouty-lipped charm and sexual anarchy to the role. He’s an increasingly menacing force of nature on stage as the show proceeds, his face make-up growing grotesque, his patter less cute and more ominous, coinciding with the Nazi party’s rise to power.

Peterson is the kind of performer who can do anything. This role demands nothing less. He delivers chorus-line kicks, improvises raucous audience interactions and leads a handful of show-stopping dance numbers, such as “Money,” performed with four showgirls around an oversized Reichsmark coin and “Two Ladies,” a playful threesome danced in a bed sheet. His take on “I Don’t Care Much” is a haunting revelation — a ghoulish punk ballad, performed in drag.

There are no notable lulls in this show and no weak spots in the cast — even the German and English accents from this American cast are passable to pretty good — and the onstage band performs the score gracefully, with an appropriate touch of mischief.

Kirsten Wyatt plays Bowles, the trainwreck chanteuse, as a woman cracking at the edges. She wears the diva’s insecurities and broken soul on her face — a powerful approach in the intimate confines of the Hurst Theatre, where an actor’s expression can be as key to a performance as her dance steps and voice. She offers a heartwrenching take on “Maybe This Time” and sings through tears in the iconic title song.

And though it grows dark and tense by the end of act one, Theatre Aspen’s “Cabaret,” like the Kit Kat itself, offers its share of escapist fun. As we’ve come to expect from other Mark Martino-directed shows at Theatre Aspen, it makes excellent use of the tent theater and its thrust stage. If you sit on an aisle, be prepared to find a scantily clad Kit Kat girl or boy in your lap. If you sit at one of the cafe tables in the first row, don’t be surprised if you end up onstage.

The story of “Cabaret” is ostensibly about Cliff (Allen E. Reed), the struggling American writer coming to Berlin to finish a novel, who falls in with Sally and her seedy cohort after New Year’s Eve at the infamous Kit Kat Club. But the Emcee and Sally, as in most any production of “Cabaret,” steal the show here. Supporting players do manage to make an impression, however, especially Fraulein Schneider (Lori Wilner) in “What Would You Do?” and Reed in a sweet “Perfectly Marvelous.”

Aspenite Nikki Boxer, doing double-duty as a Kit Kat Girl and as Cliff’s prostitute neighbor, provides a musical high point of the show in “Married,” showing off her classical singing chops (in German, no less) and later showing up on the accordion.

The two-story set and row of nightclub tables help immerse you in the Kit Kat’s low-rent decadence. But the set is static, and has to double as a train station and as Cliff’s apartment, among other locations. So the show’s lighting helps transform it when we leave the club, yet always keeps us in its smoky milieu, until the show’s crushing conclusion, when a hail of light signals the doom laying ahead for bohemian Berlin.

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