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Theater review: Decadence has its day at 'Cabaret'

Berlin. The early 1930s. Adolf Hitler's vision of making the Fatherland great again is gaining traction. But at the Kit Kat Klub they come to hear the music play and blithely ignore the coming storm.

"Cabaret" remains one of the most depressing musicals ever staged. The production directed by Robert Lee that opened Thursday night at the Underground can make you feel guilty for applauding the musical numbers while the lives of the characters are destroyed.

As the Master of Ceremonies, Alec Schroeder arrives on stage dressed something like a samurai who dreams of being a geisha. He schmoozes with the audience and often pops up in other scenes, observing the action with an assortment of telling smiles and smirks.

In "If You Could See Her," Schroeder deliciously emphasizes the garishness to underscore the ghastliness of the song.

Our conduit to all the gaudy decadence is Shad Olsen as American Cliff Bradshaw, moving from one European capital to the next, seeking inspiration to write a novel. But upon arrival in Berlin, he is immediately sidetracked by the force of nature that is Sally Bowles, the English lass who headlines at the Kit Kat Klub.

Louisa Scorich's strong vocals certainly make her Sally a much better singer than the character was intended to be. She is fittingly flirtatious in "Don't Tell Mama," and in "Maybe This Time," she reveals Sally's hidden sense of quiet desperation.

Rob Hadaway completely embodies the lovable Herr Schultz. His romance with boarding house owner Sara Marie Sorensen's Fräulein Schneider bears much fruit during the evening, especially during "It Couldn't Please Me More."

As Fräulein Kost, Maddison Nachtsheim makes the reprise of "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" even more harrowing, while Mike Pederson has the rare opportunity to play someone not so nice in Ernst Ludwig.

This production follows the revival version rather than the original, incorporating the three songs written for the film version: "Mein Herr," "Maybe This Time" and "Money." (Fair warning: the stage and screen versions of "Cabaret" are significantly different.)

Ashley Wereley's scenic design has seating on three sides of the Kit Kat Klub's stage, with the beautifully dressed seven-piece orchestra led by Christine Winkler Johnson situated high above. Down front, limited seating helps provide a cabaret-like setting for the show.

For choreographer Brianna Hall, the best number is "Mein Herr," with its slow build to the barrel tapping and slapping frenzy by Sally and the Kit Kat Girls.

When the real world turns uglier than the nihilistic naughtiness on the Kit Kat stage, the time comes for the characters to stand and be counted.

The pragmatic Fräulein Schneider delivers the most pointed song of the night, "What Would You Do?"

"Cabaret" doubles down on the answer. Schroeder's haunting "I Don't Care Much" argues for apathy. Then Scorich belts out the title tune, and only toward the end does her facade finally begin to break as the words she sings ring hollow.

The finale's transmutation of Cliff's train ride out of Berlin fades to black in silence, the audience hesitant to applaud. But that terrible tribulation demands the mute tribute.

If you go

• What: "Cabaret"

• Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

• When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Aug. 19

• Tickets: $20 adults, $18 students at duluthplayhouse.org

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