Stockton Civic Theater’s Cabaret Kicks Up More Than a Chorus Line in Old Berlin

Kevin Calderon Lopez, Anthony Allen, and Esther Henderson. Photo: Sierra Fraser
The sun is setting on the civilized order of Europe, but the lights are still bright (for the time being) at Berlin’s Kit Kat Club, where refugees from Germany’s impending darkness can find relief in an anything-goes musical circus hosted by a naughty and prankish emcee who welcomes visitors to his idea of the beautiful life.
Welcome to the Stockton Civic Theatre version of “Cabaret”. It’s a musical with a capital M given its lasting fame and a second M to caution you that the show is intended for mature audiences. Leave the kids at home and try to show some maturity as you hoot and holler at the show’s terrific singing and dancing. 
The longtime stage hit (currently being revived on Broadway) and the 1972 film classic that won 8 Oscars (including those for Liza Minelli as Sally, Joel Grey as the Emcee and director Bob Fosse) is given a spirited new rendering here. It’s bawdy and boisterous, graced with memorable acting, humorously indecent, and capped with a surprise ending that may strike you as having relevance to today’s troubled world. What more can one ask?
Hemingway might have thrived in a plot that follows the adventures of American writer Cliff Bradshaw (portrayed by Antonio Munoz) as he ventures out of Paris and into Berlin in search of material for a novel. It isn’t long until he finds himself inside the notorious Kit Kat Club where sexy chanteuse Sally Bowles could become a character in his novel if he can avoid her distractions long enough to type more than a few paragraphs.
Karissa Kiriu and Antonio Munoz. Photo: Sierra Fraser.
The Kit Kat is so far beyond your usual nightclub that it defies definition. People come here to forget their troubles, give pleasure precedence and dismiss the emerging political order as a passing phase and one unlikely to be as menacing as it seems.
In the bizarre sanctuary of the club, Bradshaw connects with Sally (Karissa Kiriu) and begins a problematic relationship that takes more twists and turns than even a romance novelist can begin to imagine. Like everything else at the Kit Kat, it’s all under the scrutiny and unrelenting satire of the emcee, played in sordid splendor by Anthony Allen as a man with many faces, many costumes and a taste for the outlandish. 
 Munoz plays Bradshaw as an earnest young man from Massachusetts, trying to find his novel in the deepening shadows of Berlin and the welcoming arms of Sally.  Asked about his native state, Bradshaw begins quoting something about a baseball game in a place called Mudville. Hello? Our writer then quotes the opening lines of “Casey at the Bat, ” a baseball classic that had its origin not in Massachusetts, but on Stockton’s Mudville Island, site of a vintage ballpark where visiting San Francisco newsman Ernest Thayer found inspiration for his immortal poem. Bradshaw has his geography wrong, but the missed connection to Stockton’s classic got a chuckle from this baseball fan.
Karissa Kiriu gives her all in the role of Sally and it’s a performance you don’t want to miss. She left many of us in the audience wondering how she had the energy and stamina to sustain a role that demands so much of her multiple talents. Given what she receives at the end of the play, when a frustrated and lovesick Bradshaw angrily urges her to do the sensible thing and save herself by escaping with him to America, what will Sally’s decision be? Whether or not she comes to her senses, of one thing we can be certain. Ms. Kiriu will be a leading SCT contender for outstanding performance in a 2024 musical. 
Makenzie Jones, Stefany Jarrett, Karissa Kiriu, Bryn Riley, Chrissy Contino, Esther Henderson and Paris Allen. Photo: Sierra Fraser.
A far quieter but no less impressive role is that of Fraulein Schneider, a no-nonsense boarding house manager whom veteran actress Melissa Esau plays with the integrity and sensibility lacking most of the tenants in her rentals. The good frau’s loneliness is remedied, at least for the time being, by Herr Schultz (Ron Smith), a kindly and gentle fruit vendor. It seems the perfect love match, one far superior to the ill-matched Cliff and Sally, but can the relationship of these elders survive in a Germany on the brink of brutal tyranny? 
A highlight of the show are the musical numbers by Sally and the Kit Kat chorus, whose kickline and vocals can get you dancing in your theatre seat.  You may find it hard to resist singing along as they render “Don’t Tell Mama” and “Mein Herr,” and wait until you see the gals go to the bank with Herr Emcee on “Money Makes the World Go Round.” If money can’t bring you happiness, try the Kit Kat chorus line instead.
A rather long first act was relieved by a 15-minute intermission that allowed theatregoers to refresh themselves and consider the merits of the  show’s signature cocktail. The French Lady, as the cocktail is called, offers a mix of gin, triple sec, lemon juice and simple syrup, topped off with champagne and finished with a dehydrated orange slice ($10). I’m wondering if this concoction is by any chance a nod to SCT performer Stefany Jarrett, who plays the role of a lady named Frenchie. Personally, I prefer my orange slice hydrated.
Ron Smith, Anthony Allen and Melissa Esau. Photo: Sierra Fraser.
Although the play opens on a jolly note with the popular song “Willkommen” (welcome) and the promise of a rousing time, the climax reminds us that few will escape the trap of Berlin’s New Order. But is there a meaning beyond period history here? Is there the hint of a lesson for present-day America, where hate is rampant, tensions high and violence escalating? Are we, too, living on the edge, drifting toward a fate we insist can’t happen here, but devoting much of our attention to our own carefree distractions and careless fantasies?  
You be the judge. Come to the Cabaret, old chum, and make up your mind.
Performances: Thursday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m.  Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Through May 5.
Prices: Adults $31.  Seniors $26.  Students $18.
Stockton Civic Theatre, 2312 Rosemarie Lane.
Box Office: (209) 473-2424.
Business Office: (209) 473-2400.


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  • That was a perfect review of this musical! Cabaret had a bit of it all; fun, love/lust, followed by occupation of the German’s leading to WWII. Loved the singing and dancing too🙌🏻

  • This is my favorite play! It seems like it was a lively time there and good sediment to the issues of today! I wish I got to see it!

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