Published on May 27th, 2014 | by Zamná Ávila
There are two stories told in Cabaret, the musical which opened at the San Pedro Theatre Club and continues there through June 8.
The first story is about love and life in the surreal world of Weimar Germany, which you probably know.
The second, about the resurrection of James Blackman, is almost as interesting.
Blackman was for several years the director and creator of the Civic Light Opera of the South Bay Cities, but ran into financial troubles with that group. He was kicked out of Redondo Beach and looking for a new home, with a large loyal fan base and more than a few folks who wanted their money back.
Blackman wanted to perform at the Warner Grand Theatre but when that house wasn’t available he created a much smaller theater half-a-block way, the San Pedro Theatre Club, where he hoped to keep producing musicals, even if the house — at 78 seats — was much smaller than he had used elsewhere.
It has taken more than a year, but Blackman now has his first musical onstage and a schedule of three others down the road. In Cabaret he has a hit on his hands and a good future in San Pedro, which, with three busily producing companies and a regular season at the Warner, is becoming a weekend destination again.
Cabaret has been around since 1966 and was featured in a delightful movie version in 1972, but the actual musical is different, both darker and lighter: surprisingly direct in its anti-Nazi stance, but much more a musical vehicle than a glimpse of reality, a continually surprising look at the end of one era and the beginning of another and very violent one.
Drew Fitzsimmons is the MC. His face is painted (but only slightly), while he is wise-cracking and playing with the audience as he introduces the Cabaret, the review’s acts, and the delicious and almost unbelievably accurate music that John Kander wrote for the score. (It is still hard to believe that “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” written by Kander with words by Fred Ebb, the Nazi’s iconic song, wasn’t written in 1928.) The seven-piece orchestra, led from the piano by Leslie Sharp, is a little scratchy, a little less than perfect, but then that is the way it would have been in Berlin’s Kit-Kat Club.
Michelle Zelina is Sally Bowles, the doomed dancer who can’t believe that her world is ending. She is always upbeat, always cheerful, even as Berlin falls around her ears. (She doesn’t read the newspapers, after all.) Mathew Craig is Cliff Bradshaw, the American writer who tells the story, falls for Sally and is witness to the rise of the Nazi Party, and the beginnings of 15 years of death and destruction.
Fitzsimmons, forced by the theater’s small size to perform right in the audience’s faces, has a great time, playing with them and, in the beginning of the second act, doing Charlie Chaplin’s dance with the world globe from The Great Dictator, throwing the ball into the audience.
Joan Perkins is Fraulein Schneider. She sings with a remarkable voice as she falls in love with and then has to reject Herr Schulz (the great and mousy David Fairchild) because he is Jewish. Michael Sandidge is the smooth-talking Ernst who befriends Bradshaw and only later is revealed as a Nazi party member.
Vicki Miller did the choreography and, even on the smallish stage, it is wonderful. Blackman directed the show with her assistance.
Zelina and Fitzsimmons are worth seeing just for their performances, but the show is a delight with everyone contributing. With luck it signals the return of musical comedy to San Pedro.
Tickets are $45 to $55. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through June 8.
Details: (310) 773-4964; www.thesanpedrotheatreclub.com
Venue: San Pedro Theatre Club
Location: 624 Pacific Ave., San Pedro