By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The character everyone remembers from the movie--the creepy Kit Kat Club Emcee played by Joel Grey onscreen and made even creepier by actor Alan Cumming in director Sam Mendes' 1998 Broadway revival--has no relationship with anyone else onstage and speaks only to the audience. But he's the life force of the show, the source of erotic energy. He's the messenger of impending doom as the Nazi presence grows more menacing in act two. And he's comic relief, taking vaudevillian turns in "The Money Song," "Two Ladies" and the haunting "If You Could See Her," which uses a gorilla costume to get across Hitler's attitude toward mixed marriage.
WaterTower director Terry Martin, aiming for Marlene Dietrich's androgyny in his Emcee, cast Ashley Puckett Gonzales. Ach du lieber! She's a disaster, vocally and physically. Stuffed into leather short-shorts and a black bra, Gonzales is a bleached blond bratwurst bursting out of its casing. You'd think wearing costumes this tight would facilitate the high notes, but no luck there either. Her voice is as fried as her hair, poor dear.
The set for the show is spectacular, so it's too bad that except for the dancers' revealing outfits in the opening number, costume designer Michael Robinson's duds for this Cabaret are all duds. The ladies' flouncy dresses say Banana, not Weimar, Republic. Sally comes off like a dowdy schoolmarm in sensible pumps. Where's that divine decadence, dahling?
By the time the Nazi flags drop and Sally's wailed her last wail over Elsie from Chelsea, we should have something emotionally invested in these colorful characters and the fate that awaits them under Hitler's rule. But that just doesn't happen with this production. We never quite make it out of Addison and into the Berlin of the Jazz Age. Instead of building to a terrifying roar, this Cabaret winds down to a sort of empty whimper. Um, Auf Wiedersehen, y'all.