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Reimagined and reinvented: This is not your mother’s ‘Cabaret’

“Cabaret The Musical” presented by Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute on Hilton Head Island June 28-30.
“Cabaret The Musical” presented by Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute on Hilton Head Island June 28-30.

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking ... Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.” — Christopher Isherwood, “The Berlin Stories.”

The Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute’s performance of the award-winning “Cabaret The Musical” simply stops you in your tracks.

Filled with energy, emotion, expression and extremes, you will not be able to take your eyes off the activity on the stage, nor stop listening to the words and music from the stage ... nor forget about the astonishing performances offered by this year’s class of SSTI participants.

In a triumph of understatement, I must tell you that this is not your mother’s “Cabaret.” It is that award-winning “Cabaret” reimagined and reinvented.

The elegant storyline, now enriched with metaphors of the passage of time and revisiting historical moments, captures our attention.

The sustained intensity, the top-notch performances of the cast and their collective musicianship continues through the evening. We see and then hear, close up, the incredible music of John Kander, and the lyrics of Fred Ebbe. And we are challenged by the intensity of the book by Joe Masteroff.

But our “Cabaret” takes earlier “Cabaret” performances to a new level: fresh and inspired, vibrant, unsettling. Director/choreographer, New York’s Joe Barros, carefully offers a series of inspired directions in which our “Cabaret” flows.

Our storyline, developed from the words of Christopher Isherwood, the author who inspired “Cabaret’s” protagonist, Clifford Bradshaw, are the inspiration for the performance we experienced on opening night.

In one example of the blend of past and present we see live, contemporaneous video images from mobile devices projected on a textured curtain, as the plot continues to unfold before our eyes.

This is one of many signs that remind us that anything, anything, that happens once may happen again.

All of the familiar cast members perform impressively: the emcee who delights, shocks and entertains; the energetic and vibrant cabaret singer, Sally Bowles, the writer, Clifford Bradshaw; the concerned Frau Schneider; Frau Kost and her sailors; the earnest groceryman, Herr Schultz; and Victor, Ernst and Bobby are all there, and their performances shine with the polish of perfection and perseverance.

The ensemble’s 11 members support and entertain so impressively, offering their characters with the same intensity. You’ll love the ensemble’s role in rounding out the set. They actually become tables, doors, picture frames, lights and more. And you’ll be thrilled with the physicality of this remarkable production.

The cast takes us to Berlin, which in 1929 and 1930 is enduring the post-World War I economic depression. Berlin had become the center of a kind of edgy, underground avant-garde expression. That is portrayed in spades by the habitués of the infamous Kit Kat Klub, especially by the lead characters who propel so magically the “Cabaret” story.

We in the audience feel as though we are guests, too, taking in the astonishing, and I do mean astonishing, costumes and a set that truly transport all of us to that time and place.

The action makes use of every practical, or impractical, space. Dramatic lighting adds enormous dimension to the setting. The emcee, wearing fuchsia and gold, shiny dark glasses and high heeled boots, all in his own inimitable, kind of gender-bending fashion, reminds all comers that though life in the outside world is growing more and more uncertain, if you’ll just come inside and enjoy the pleasures and treasures of the Kit Kat Klub, everything will be fine, but you must leave your worries outside.

We follow the lives of the characters, who at first are chided into believing that the future will hold promise. But in a short time we begin to see the dangers of Hitler’s totalitarian regime and the emergence of the Nazi Party.

We come face to face with each character’s motivations and the complexity involved with their personal solutions and outcomes. In spite of the darkness of that time, there is enormous wit, sardonic good humor and brilliant sarcasm delivered with great accomplishment, which comes from everyone.

The music you love and associate with “Cabaret” is brilliantly offered by those on stage and those in the pit. There’s the emcee’s impeccable delivery of “Wilkommen,” followed with Sally’s “Don’t Tell Mama” and the very funny “Two Ladies” and the stirring “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” “If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song)“ is a knock out, and of course ”Cabaret” with the “Finale Ultimo,” closes the very dramatic, emotionally compelling second and final act.

The audience, which has been taking in all of the dramatic impact of the storyline, and responding to the dramatic resolution of the work, by then, are standing, showering the performers, the orchestra, the technicians with wild applause.

If you go

What: “Cabaret The Musical”

When: June 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. June 30 at 2 p.m.

Where: Seahawk Cultural Center, Hilton Head Island High School, 70 Wilborn Road.

Information: Tickets may be purchased at www.HHISummerMusicals.com or by calling 866-749-2228.

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