Off-Strip’s ‘Cabaret’ doesn’t quite stand up on its own

Cabaret runs through August 3 at Onyx.
Jacob Coakley

Three stars

Cabaret Through August 3; Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $19-$24. Onyx Theatre, 702-732-7225.

Cabaret follows the lives of folks connected by the Kit Kat Klub, a cabaret in Weimar Era Germany, and is framed as an actual cabaret show itself, hosted by the androgynous, sexual Master of Ceremonies (played here by John Dorsey). Cliff (Cory Goble), a closeted writer, comes to Berlin to finish his novel and ends up in a relationship with the star of the cabaret, Sally Bowles (Kirstin Maki). Nothing goes well for anyone, and the score and songs chronicling their emotional devastation are the stuff of musical theater legend.

And that’s the problem with Off-Strip Productions’ current version of the show, running through August 3 at Onyx Theatre. Under the direction of Brandon Burk, the production leans on the imagery and interpretations of previous performances instead of finding its own, authentic take. Maki’s solo showstoppers—“Maybe This Time” and “Cabaret”—are sung beautifully. She has brilliant tone and a voice supple enough to belt out a song while also conveying weakness, no mean feat. But the songs seem disconnected to an actual emotional life, and her romance with Goble feels by the numbers.

Certain production aspects are off-kilter, too. Although it’s great to have live musicians onstage (playing crisply under the musical direction of Karalyn Clark), their band riser takes up so much real estate that it cramps everything else, which especially affects Olivia Hernando’s choreography on some of the larger numbers. That’s no excuse for placing Sally Bowles behind a phalanx of dancers for her first number, “Mein Herr,” shielding the star from the audience for most of the song.

As the MC, Dorsey is magnetic. His large frame struts the stage in a series of amazing costumes from Isaiah Urrabazo, and he sparkles in “Two Ladies.” But his voice doesn’t have the power to carry over the chorus in larger numbers like “Money” (and was affected by hoarseness during “I Don’t Care Much”). In the end, as he walks away from a desolate Cliff, wearing a suit that’s a patchwork of various concentration camp badges and identification numbers, it’s clear the show itself still has enough power to stick with you. I just wish there was less focus on re-creation and more attention to fresh discovery.

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