By ALAN SMASON, WYES-TV Theatre Critic (“Steppin’ Out“)
There are times when a single performance rises above all others within a given production. While these times are rare, when they occur, they are noteworthy. Generally, they signal that the performer in question has achieved a luminary status that will forever mark them as a significant actor now and in the future.
It is as Sally Bowles, the down-on-her-luck British expatriate singer at the seedy Kit Kat Klub in 1930’s Berlin, that Samantha V. Rohr so deftly, adroitly and charmingly captures the rapt attention of audience members in Cutting Edge Theater’s current production of Cabaret.
The vivid red hair with the green painted fingernails are at the exterior of her scintillating performance. But when Rohr’s rich voice soars in her introductory number, “Don’t Tell Mama,” with a chorus of dancing Kit Kat Girls behind her and continues with “Mein Herr,” attention must be paid. In both selections there is unmistakable star quality that shines through from Rohr and that’s only the beginning.
After a terrific “Maybe This Time” (written for the Bob Fosse movie) and now part of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb’s standard show repertoire, Rohr shows up all alone on stage in a final dazzling gown for the titular song, “Cabaret,” and does another spectacular job.
Rohr received much of her training as a student at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) and later graduated from Northwestern State University’s Theatre and Dance program in Natchitoches, Louisiana. She has been performing professionally for several years since her graduation in venues in Colorado, Florida and New York and is delighted to be back on a local stage.
With a tinge of a British accent and a gleam in her eye, she plays her scenes opposite the closeted homosexual American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Sean Malley) with equal amounts of naughtiness and self-loathing. The two seem to be working out as a couple in the duet “Perfectly Marvelous,” but it is short-lived. Despite Cliff’s attempts to salvage their relationship, especially when she becomes pregnant, they are destined to be a truly tragic couple.
The character of Bradshaw is at the center of the piece, based on the work of Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin,” which documented the bawdy and seamy underbelly that was Berlin during the years between the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. Isherwood’s work led to the play “I Am a Camera” by John van Druten, which enjoyed a successful run in New York and, in turn, inspired the decision to turn the play into a musical. Malley’s character is the glue that holds all of the other characters together.
Two other standouts in the production are Sara and Jim Pagones, the real life, longtime married couple, who play the other couple in love, landlady Fräulein Schneider and Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz. Their determined love for each other is doomed from the external forces at play as the dark forces of anti-Semitism gather and eventually propel the Nazi Party into power.
Sara Pagones’ voice work is exceptionally strong and the German accents both she and her husband utilize may have found their genesis in the German college drama class they shared more than four decades earlier.
As the emcee, Richard Fuentes plays his role with less of the musicality of originator Joel Grey and much more of the strident tone Alan Cumming set for the two revivals in which he was the star. His over-the-top makeup is spellbinding, but the harsh tones of his emcee tend to overshadow the musical moments in which his character achieves a connection with the audience and his vulnerable and tormented side should shine through.
Fuentes’ best moments in the first act occur with his comic turns in “Two Ladies” and “Money.” Likewise, “If You Could See Her,” in which he performs opposite a slapstick simian partner, gives us moments of comic relief, but ends with a final, unexpected reference to prejudice and hate. His last turn in the finale reveals a shocking ending to a musical that famously only hints at the ugliness and horrors of real life events to unfold.
Fuentes also serves as the set designer for this production and is responsible for its dark and foreboding lighting design. Theater owner Brian Fontenot, who is his husband in real life, worked behind the scenes as the co-director with Suzanne Stymiest. Fontenot, who doubles as a beautician during the daylight hours, lends additional expertise as hair and makeup designer for the production. Both Fontenot and Stymiest received additional support from Aaron Turnipseed as the music director and Raven Miranda as choreographer.
Miranda’s work with the Kit Kat girls and male performers is noteworthy when one considers the large number of dancers occupying space on the rather snug stage.
Noted supporting players include Becky Daigrepont as prostitute Fraülein Kost and boy toys John Bindman as Victor and Chris Grimwood as Bobby.
Cabaret by John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics) and a book by Joe Masteroff continues its run at Cutting Edge Theater, 767 Robert Boulevard in Slidell, LA. from now through October 9. Shows run on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.