Iconic Gay Musical Enjoys Fresh Revival 

Bears and other queers alike have embraced Cabaret.

While the show is set during one of the most tragic times of our lives, the songs and story have many uplifting moments and make us identify with the characters, especially in the movie version which starred gay icon Liza Minnelli in her Oscar winning performance as Sally Bowles.

The movie, though, was turned into a star vehicle for Minnelli and the actual original live musical still makes Bowles a pivotal role but gives other characters time to shine.

While we all hold the movie up to the highest gay standard, the musical is a must see. Walnut Creek’s Center Rep has quite the fortitude to mount this production at this time as the musical just re-opened on Broadway with Eddie Redmayne reprising his Olivier Award-winning performance (the London version of the Tonys).

But it’s quite cleverly planned to have Center Rep close its season in Pride Month with a show that is so revered by the gays.

Monique Hafen Adams as Sally Bowles (Photo by: Kevin Berne)

Sure, a trip to New York isn’t so easy when you can see the show in our own backyard. It would take San Franciscans just 30 minutes to cross the bridge and end up in Walnut Creek to see this glorious production.

Kudos start right at the top with director Markus Potter and choreographer Jessica Chen.  They pepper in elements from the movie as well as some Fosse moments that have been seen in other productions. Further, they add some moments of their own that are show stopping. A  “show stopper” is usually a song that is belted out, and we have plenty of those, but this team makes the staging one of its stars. There’s one song, won’t give away which one so you can somewhat enjoy the surprise, that has been elevated and is an awe-inspiring moment in which the Emcee comes out in a grandiose gown that becomes engrained into the choreography. This definitely is part of Chen’s work but also a testament to the trust of the cast as they carefully lift star Rotimi Agbabiaka.

Speaking of Agbabiaka, normally a bit more scruffy, in their role as the Emcee they bring an even mix of femininity and masculinity to the performance. I’ve found this part throughout the decades to be more androgynous, but Agbaniaka embraces his male side with his furry, cub-like chest and then turns around and offers a taste of their softer side. 

Rotimi Agbabiaka as The Emcee (Photo by Kevin Berne)

In the role of Sally Bowles, Center Rep has cast one of my favorite Bay Area actresses: Monique Hafen Adams. Having enjoyed her in productions of She Loves Me, Pride and Prejudice and most notably My Fair Lady, I was thrilled to see her among the cast. She is an amazing performer. Her singing can reach to the far end of the balcony with all emotions intact and her acting is always on-point and this ranks as one of her best performances.

All-in-all, the entire cast and ensemble deserve high praise.  None of them hit a false note – whether in acting or song – and while they take us on a familiar journey, they offer us a new way to view this classic. The new version on Broadway too has given the show a face lift but with the production values of this Cabaret, save your money on a trip to New York and make the trek to Walnut Creek. But come join the Cabaret, old chum, before it closes June 23.

Info and tickets at https://www.lesherartscenter.org/programs/center-repertory-company 

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Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, www.reelkev.com and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for Examiner.com and contributes to progressivepulse.com as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."