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Je suis enchanté

On Friday evening, I meandered over to Lyric Music Theatre in South Portland to catch opening night of Cabaret. (The Portland Phoenix's own Deirdre Fulton plays a nightclub dancer and, memorably, the gorilla; contributor Dan Clark also appears as the thuggish nightclub owner and a sex-crazed sailor. We will leave all suppositions, innuendos, and other commentaries to our readers.) Tickets are still available - and worth the $20.

It's a solid show - Justin Stebbins as the Emcee is fabulously expressive, though not always as sinister in presence as that role can be in certain scenes. It is, though, a tough balance to strike, given that the Emcee's job in the nightclub (making sure everyone's having a great time) is very different from his task in the play (making sure everyone's just a little off-balance, and then, later, knocked completely over). He handled it well, and struck largely the right notes.

KoKo Keller as Fraulein Schneider and Alan McLucas as Herr Schultz had real chemistry - their playful attraction was palpable, as was their mutual heartbreak. Keller, in particular, has a deeply expressive body (even with a cast on her right wrist) and a voice that - when not too quiet to be heard in the theater's questionable acoustics - can power a heart all on its own.

Brian McAloon (as Clifford Bradshaw, the American writer who is the outsider watching the decay of Weimar Germany into Nazism) is strong - but his connection with Caryn Blanchard (as Sally Bowles, the English nightclub dancer enjoying the escapism of 1930s Berlin) was a little strained at times. Their timing was a little bit off now and again, too, but some of that is due to the play's real flaw: the musicians.

Cabaret's music is the stuff of Broadway legend, the Tony Award-winning greatest work by John Kander and Fred Ebb (who co-wrote "New York, New York," which became a Frank Sinatra signature song, as well as the book for Chicago). And the singing, overall, was strong (except, as noted above, when handicapped by Lyric's not-exactly-musical-caliber acoustics).

But the musical ensemble, while perhaps "beautiful," as suggested by the Emcee, didn't make sounds that could be described that way. The woodwinds and brass struggled mightily with both timing and tone, and at least once during opening night, caused a singer to false-start a song.

Fortunately, though, the cast's singing power overwhelmed the instruments - particularly in the choruses of ensemble pieces, when the orchestra could have been playing John Philip Sousa, or even Eminem, and the audience wouldn't have known the difference.

It's that, then, that recommends attending the show - the strength of the cast carries and uplifts the show, as, indeed, the strength of the human spirit has allowed the world to, over time and with great effort, mostly recover from the horrors Cabaret merely foreshadows.

Oh, and most of the women are scantily clad pretty much the whole time. So if whatever I wrote above didn't tempt you, maybe that will.

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