Bryce Ryness (top), Robert Picardo, Katrina Lenk,
Jeff McLean, Lisa O'Hare, Zach Bandler,
and Mary Gordon Murray in Cabaret
(© Ed Krieger)
Bryce Ryness (top), Robert Picardo, Katrina Lenk,
Jeff McLean, Lisa O'Hare, Zach Bandler,
and Mary Gordon Murray in Cabaret
(© Ed Krieger)
For her version of Cabaret, now being presented by Reprise Theatre Company at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, Marcia Milgrom Dodge has forged a powerful, erotic, and mesmerizing take on the classic Joe Masteroff-John Kander-Fred Ebb musical,

Indeed, this production -- which combines elements from the show's previous Broadway outings and film version -- is breathtakingly staged, strikingly choreographed, and evocatively performed, keeping both the sexuality and rage bubbling.

Dodge and production designer John Iacovelli create a smoky, putrid, crimson-red asylum for the KitKatKlub, a nightmarish world where swastikas almost transparently line the banisters, and perverse paintings of George Grosz glow on the sidelines. From the velvet curtain arrives the Emcee (Bryce Ryness), looking like Mephistopheles' Maitre D' in a tight tuxedo and the perennial rosy cheeks, joining Christy Crowl and her all-woman band for an evening of frivolity and decadence.

Ryness makes this iconic role his own by his complete unpredictability. He avoids many of the vocal patterns that audiences expect, and instead catches them off-guard with a new punctuation, leaving them unsure when he will strike again. Joining Ryness for the opening number are a corps of tantalizing dancers, who explode as if they're dancing for their lives. The Lindy Hop, with its stamping feet and side snaps, resemble swastikas way before the show starts getting blatant in its references to the Nazi party.

The opening sets a properly uncomfortable mood to contrast the scenes between Cabaret's two sets of unlikely lovers: singer Sally Bowles (Lisa O'Hare) and American, bisexual writer Cliff Bradshaw (Jeff McLean), and the much-older Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray) and Herr Schultz (Robert Picardo).

Musically, Dodge has paired Sally's "Maybe This Time" (penned for the movie and made famous by Liza Minnelli) as a duet with Clifford's "Don't Go" (which was written for the 1987 revival). And while it's sad to lose the fantastic "Mein Herr" (also written for the film and later added into the 1998 revival), one understands why Dodge chose "Don't Tell Mama" instead, since to have both songs would be redundant.

As the over-optimistic Sally, O'Hare is bombastic and flirty, but is ultimately haunting. McLean captures the spirit of a wide-eyed American thrown into in a world he can't possibly understand. Murray is tender and pathetic as an old maid who discovers love only to toss it away rather than fight the perverted system, while Picardo has a simple sweetness, making it even more heartbreaking that he deserves none of the horrors that are about to crash down on him.

As the two representatives of the growing Nazi movement, Katrina Lenk is naughty as Fraulein Kost, the hooker with a heart full of Reichsmarks, while Zach Bandler is slyly endearing as Ernst, who seems to be the perfect buddy, yet turns out to be everything you hate in the world. His charming smile and jovial presence make his anti-Semitic ugliness all the more hideous once it's uncovered, a perfect metaphor for this extraordinary musical.