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Sally Forth: Elsa Carmona plays Berlin chanteuse Sally Bowles in Theatre on San Pedro Square's 'Cabaret.'

Tip-Top Kit Kat

The TOSPS 'Cabaret' beats sitting alone in your room

By Marianne Messina

OH, FOR MEN in makeup and spats, bare-armed in vests; for prowling women in garters and sexy hose, black, patterned and torn. For a midshow spanking of the cast by members of the audience. Theatre on San Pedro Square delivers all this with a smile (costumes by Charlie Smith) in its production of the musical Cabaret (playing through this week). Theatre on San Pedro Square's upstairs (many, many stairs) club-style room seems made for this musical. And the performers (in role as "The Kit Kat boys and girls") carry on shamelessly in the audience before the show, taunting, roughhousing and groping each other and otherwise parading their loose, red-light morality among the tables.

Cabaret takes place at the Kit Kat Klub in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party, when decadence had become an art and inflation was so bad that people pushed wheelbarrows of money to the grocery store, or as Frauline Schneider puts it, "billions of marks for a loaf of bread." Fraulein Schneider (Melinda Moreno-Miller) runs a Berlin rooming house where American Clifford Bradshaw (David Curley) and his newfound partner, the cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Elsa Carmona), have taken a room.

The multitalented cast shines, and perhaps the most telling number comes when the men sing the melancholy "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" in thick harmonies to the lone violin of actor/musician Austin Ku (who also plays Hans and Rudy). Adam Campbell's countertenor, singing as Ernst, is lovely, hence a nasty contrast to his role as Nazi party promoter. It is here where the tensions of the period--between friendships and ideologies, between hope and fear--become poignant. Moreno-Miller nicely captures this tension in her Frauline Schneider. She comes out singing "Who cares? So what?" But having fallen in love with the Jewish Herr Schultz (Marc Jacobs), her carefree attitude is soon deflated when Ernst warns her that marriage to Schultz would be unwise. Jacobs and Moreno-Miller create a sweet, delicate chemistry.

The cabaret emcee (Joe Duffy) echoes Schneider's refrain, but in spite of his "Who cares?" attitude, he, too, is ultimately broken by the Nazi machine. Duffy is commanding as the opportunistic amoralist, smooth in suspenders, coat tails (black or white) and loud theatrical makeup. Every flick of Duffy's thick faux eyelashes carries meaning. Carmona is a cuddly kind of Sally Bowles, holding on to her aspirations of stardom while her proverbial theater crumbles around her.

Red scrims sometimes curtain off the stage's two alcoves (one for the band and the other for the bedroom), and lighting designer Natti Pierce-Thompson manipulates them so that darker actions appear in silhouette from behind the scrim: Clifford is held and beaten by his former friend, Ernst; the emcee, Bobby (Andrew Martinez) and Texas (Melody McArtor) conduct a lewd ménage à trois. And with a reversal of lighting, the scrim becomes a wall against which the emcee hugs himself as he sings, "I don't care much." The production is far from Broadway-loud (great little combo with Mike Brosius on tuba), but it's lively, what with people entering and exiting through the audience constantly, and it embodies why--whether life is one or not--the cabaret is hard to resist.

Cabaret plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through July 4 at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose. Tickets are $25-$30. (408.283.0200)

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From the June 30-July 6, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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