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Performing Arts


DAC morphs into the Kit Kat Klub for ‘Cabaret!’

There’s a simple trick to staging a show that’s as well-known and beloved as “Cabaret!”: Don’t screw it up.

The original Broadway show won multiple Tony awards, and moviegoers will have a hard time seeing anyone but Joel Grey and Liza Minelli in the starring roles. But drawing on some of the top local talent in our town, the Durango Arts Center has done a surprisingly great job of staying true to the original show with polished professionalism.

Few roles are as iconic and critical to a stage production, any stage production, as the Emcee and Sally Bowles in “Cabaret!” If either falls flat, the show has nowhere to go but down. But director Theresa Carson mined local gold to cast Scotty Howard and Mandy Gardner in those roles.

Howard opens things up with a powerful and linguistically smooth version of “Willkomen” as we’re introduced to the guys and gals of the Kit Kat Klub. Suffice to say, they’re fun to look at.

Kudos to costumers Diane Welle, Suzy DiSanto and Carson for the outfits and the people they put in them. And C. Scott Hagler on piano and percussionist Trina Martin pull off an effect that sounds more like a house band than a mere duo. I don’t know much about Martin other than she’s good, but Hagler’s adept pacing should come as no surprise to those familiar with his talents.

It should be noted that DiSanto, an accomplished dancer and instructor, doubled as choreographer. Her job likely was made easier with such an ace crew (Kristin Sitter, for example, owns her own dance studio), but the dancing is another fine example of the high quality of the production. Aisylin Lowe, Jessica Perino, Victoria FittsMilgrim and Katie Dittelberger keep the stage interesting, and then some. (I’m tiptoeing around the fact that “Cabaret!” is for discerning audiences.)

The three Kit Kat Boys – Daniel Prill, Ammon Swofford and Adam Sowards – are each legitimate triple threats who not only sing and dance with the ladies but tackle a few roles, as well. Sowards in particular gets a chance to display a fine tenor on “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” though he delivers it in all the finery of a jackbooted Nazi taking a stroll through the audience. Try not to take a swing at him – he’s a nice guy and a fine actor.

And acting is what drives this production. There are no weak links. Gardner is beyond impressive; her acting is even stronger than her singing, and she’s got a serious set of pipes.

If “Cabaret!” has a “straight man,” it’s the struggling American writer Cliff Bradshaw, played by Mike Moran. Geoff Johnson, in what’s become typical form for the young actor, nails another challenging role, that of the closet Nazi, Ernst. Any time you find yourself actually hating a character, you know the actor has achieved his goal, and Johnson’s Ernst is a walking example of how it all went so wrong in Germany in the 1930s.

The strongest and most convincing performances come from Jeannie Wheeldon and Stew Mosberg as the unfortunate Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.

Wheeldon, who only recently has gotten to show her onstage talents after years running and directing the Diamond Circle Melodrama, is a pro’s pro. Her transformation into the lonely landlady who loses her last chance at marriage to Ernst’s virulent anti-Semitism is remarkable.

And Mosberg, stepping onstage from behind the writer’s keyboard, projects the tragic naiveté of so many European Jews who just never saw it coming with heart-wrenching accuracy. Both maintain authentic accents throughout; bad accents also can derail an otherwise successful performance, and it’s never a concern here.

One last note is a nod to the growing collaborative efforts between the local theater community, the DAC in particular, and Fort Lewis College. The entire tech crew for “Cabaret!” are current FLC theater tech majors. Fletcher Norris and Cody Green handle all of the lighting, and freshman Jessica Laskowitz does the sound. It’s invaluable real-world experience for the students, and audiences won’t have any idea that it’s not pros behind the boards.

If this sounds like a gushing of accolades, it is. Durango is not Broadway and never will be, but local audiences undoubtedly will love this show for its high energy and high quality. There are only six chances to see it, and it would be a shame to see an empty seat for any of them.


If you go

The Durango Arts Center presents “Cabaret!”, book by Christopher Isherwood, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Performances are at 8 p.m. Oct. 18, 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Oct. 19 and a 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 20.

The Oct. 11 performance is “Burlesque in Berlin,” a fundraising event featuring appetizers, drinks and preshow performances ($50). All other tickets cost $25, available at the box office at 802 East Second Ave., by phone at 259-2606 or online at www.durangoarts.org.

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