Desperate debauchery haunts this Cabaret | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Desperate debauchery haunts this Cabaret

Encroaching fascism and gender fluidity make for a timely revival with Cowardly Scarecrow.

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Cowardly Scarecrow Theatre Company turns Chief O'Neill's Attic Bar into the Kit Kat Klub circa 1931 in its unrestrained musical adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's stories of Nazi-era Berlin, first created by Fred Ebb and John Kander. Marc Lewallen's and Brad Younts's collaborative design and direction borrow freely from previous revivals (particularly Sam Mendes's 1998 version), while reflecting our current cultural conversation on gender fluidity and sexual identity. Any historical piece set in a time of encroaching fascism can't help but feel timely.

Performing along a diagonal runway that bisects a small barroom, with the audience seated at tables throughout, the cast pulls off the difficult trick of constantly changing the direction and focus of action. Somehow, even when a singer was belting a number with her back to me, my disbelief remained suspended and I was not taken out of the story. It's a testament to the scrappy ingenuity of the production that an ordinary flashlight pointed at a singer from behind the bar by a tech crew member reads convincingly as a theater spot. Kevin Webb hams it up as the leering, pansexual Emcee; Caitlin Jackson makes for a believably conflicted Sally Bowles; and Sydney Genco's singing is a highlight in her portrayal of the shameless Fritzie Kost.

Occasional flat notes and overbroad gestures barely break the mood of the desperate debauchery this collection of misfits engages in as their world is about to crumble. The quiet procession being pinned with yellow Holocaust stars and multicolored triangles—representing other minorities that Nazis found subhuman—as the last strains of Cabaret fade to silence, stayed with me long after I'd left the bar and won't soon be forgotten.  v

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