Director and Dare to Defy executive director Philip Drennen’s fun, character conscious and joyously intimate production captivates from the start and doesn’t let go. His engaging idea to ground the show in a nightclub essence is effortlessly executed. In fact, the main stage includes multiple tables, allowing the actors to playfully interact with theatergoers while also remaining in character to watch certain songs arise (“If You Could See Her” includes a nod to Mike Beerbower’s effectively understated portrayal of covert operator Ernst Ludwig). And in many respects, this “Cabaret” refreshingly avoids the temptation of being overtly sexually explicit (I can’t recall a more provocatively tame “Two Ladies”). Striking the right tone is crucial to any “Cabaret” and Drennen’s atmospheric aptitude – expertly aided by a production team including lighting designer Matthew P. Benjamin, set decorator Lindsay Sherman, costumer/hair/makeup designer Courtney Collinsworth and musical director Norman Moxley – greatly benefits the overall framework.
Delightful Kit Kat Klub ensemble
The merriment and mystique of the Kit Kat Club is in good hands thanks to choreographer Gage Wayne’s playfully sexy routines performed by a delightful ensemble. Abbey Grace (Rosie), Lindsey Morrison (Frenchie), VaNae lesha (Lulu), Caroline Thompson (Victoria), the aforementioned Collinsworth (Texas), baton-twirling Scott Winters (Bobby), Naman Clark (Hans/Customs Official/Rudy) and William Boatwright Jr. (Herman/Max) ensure an enjoyable time is had by all.
Alex Everett’s gleefully naughty Emcee
Tall, nimble, comical and surprisingly vulnerable, Alex Everett’s decadent Emcee keeps the action and commentary entertaining and impactful. Borrowing the iconic Alan Cumming blueprint, Everett zips through the show with gleeful naughtiness. Whether disregarding the growing evil threatening to tear the characters apart (notice his shenanigans at the end of Act 1 in “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”) or basking in the torch song spotlight in a gorgeous black gown to soulfully proclaim “I Don’t Care Much,” his breakthrough performance is a knockout.
Joshua Stucky’s dynamically elegant, heartbreaking Fraulein Schneider
Without one morsel of caricature, Joshua Stucky, wonderfully witty and beautifully costumed, fully conveys the grace, warmth, hopefulness and heartbreak of landlady Fraulein Schneider. Stucky’s confident femininity mesmerizes from his first entrance and exceptionally deepens as Schneider amusingly feuds with saucy prostitute Fraulein Kost (a defiant Amy Askins) and grows closer to Jewish fruit seller Herr Schultz (Saul Caplan in one of his finest portrayals). Finishing his work with a formidable “What Would You Do?,” a plea for understanding and a declaration of survival, Stucky is the heart and soul of a production that wouldn’t have been the same without him. And if Dare to Defy continues partnering with Square One Salon and The RubiGirls, I’m going to speak this into existence: Joshua Stucky as Mama Rose. Think about it.
Charity Farrell’s remarkable homecoming as Sally Bowles
Growing up in Dayton, Charity Farrell was a fixture at the Dayton Playhouse starring in such shows as “Annie, “The Secret Garden” and “The Miracle Worker” to name only a few. Having appeared off-Broadway, regionally and on the high seas in recent years, including a stint in Hollywood on the FOX reality series “I Can See Your Voice,” she returns home in dazzling fashion as Sally Bowles. She remarkably interprets Sally as a desperate, manic, drug-addicted, self-absorbed, washed-up mess. But in a signature sequence luminously envisioned by Drennen, Sally dreams of a better life with bisexual Cliff (endearingly impressionable Garrett Young) in “Maybe This Time,” sung by Farrell with great contemplation and attack. Still, it is in her rendition of the title song that her performance truly soars. With passionate, spine-tingling, lyric-driven velocity, she delivers a vocally thrilling tour de force that would make Liza Minnelli proud. By all means, come to the cabaret.
HOW TO GO
Where: PNC Arts Annex, 46 W. Second St., Dayton
When: Through Oct.16; Tickets are still available for the Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. All other performances are sold out.
Tickets: Call 937-228-3630 or visit daytonlive.org
FYI: In addition to wearing masks, patrons must provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for entry.