‘Cabaret’ as cover band

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The tricky thing with a musical like “Cabaret” is that it’s so iconic.

You remember the show - set in a German Weimar cabaret right as the Nazis are about to take over Germany?

If I even say “Cabaret” you probably already imagine the ripped stockings, the corsets and the dark eye-shadow. You might even start humming “Wilkommen.” It’s a show that practically comes with the costumes pre-designed.

It’s sort of like your favorite pop song.

Imagine if another band wanted to do it. They could do a cover of it and re-interpret, re-imagine it. Maybe shift up the tempo. Get you to see the song in a whole different way.

Or … they could become a cover band and try to recreate not just the song but the whole ethos. In essence, perform it the way you already know it.

This second route is how Celebration Theater tackles “Cabaret.” This isn’t a reimagining of the musical. It’s a performance of the musical as icon - like a great cover band is not just singing a song but, in a way, they’re performing your memory of the song. So for a cover band novelty isn’t an attribute - it’s a fault. You’re not going to see someone do your favorite song in a new way - you’re paying to see them do it the way you like it - the way you remember it. And like going to a dingy club to see that cover band - the fun is seeing a big idea in a tiny space.

Celebration nails that part. In a theater that’s barely over 50 seats, they pack in the Kit Kat club, a fantastic house band, and enough hazy smoke effects to fill a theater four times its size. They rely, like the musical itself on the bawdy and flashy to get by and let the story line fall where it may.

This is not a production that works too hard to make sense of where these songs or characters come from or what it might mean to do a play about a country being taken over by racists - heck, here’s another song, cinch up that corset and enjoy!

The audience murmurings at intermission had a common thread - “I can’t believe they packed all that in such a tiny space.” And mostly I think they were talking about the theater and not the costumes - but I confess that part of the fun of the show is watching the audience watch it. It’s sort of burlesque with training wheels.

The show more or less supports its nearly three hours on gumption and dance numbers alone - though you may begin to wish they’d spent a little more time supporting the storyline in act one so the shocks of act two were filled with a bit more earned pathos. And those final moments when this strangely apolitical production suddenly uses a single sound cue to take us from Nazi Germany to “Make America Great Again” as if that’s what the whole piece was building to? Just let it wash over you - it’s another cover from another band.

“Cabaret” plays at the Celebration Theatre in Hollywood through September 16th.