PICK! ASR Theater ~~ “Cabaret” a Stunner at 6th Street Playhouse

By Barry Willis

Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse is the latest theater company to tackle Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, a musical now in its 56th year. Having missed one weekend due to a Covid outbreak, the 6th Street production runs through October 16th.

A sugar-coated cautionary tale, the 1972 film version firmly established the show in pop culture. Many people know its songs without understanding that the show itself is far more than a lightweight romp through the decadent underworld of Weimar Republic Berlin. The story’s late 1930s time frame isn’t specific, but encompasses the rise of the Germany’s Nazi party and its increasingly virulent anti-Semitism. It’s often forgotten that the Nazi party was democratically elected. By 1933 it was the most powerful political organization in Germany.

Directed by Jared Sakren, this Cabaret is a compelling musical drama with moments of great hilarity as the wraith-like Emcee (the superb Michael Strelo-Smith) welcomes us into the Kit Kat Club, a dingy dive that’s a mainstay of Berlin’s entertainment underground.

The cast of 6th Street’s “Cabaret” at work. Photo by Eric Chazankin.

The primary plot revolves around an itinerant American novelist, Cliff Bradshaw (Damion Matthews)) befriended by German businessman Ernst Ludwig (Izaak Heath) on a train ride into Berlin. Ludwig knows the city intimately, and introduces Bradshaw to the club and to Fraulein Schneider (Ginger Beavers), proprietor of a rooming house where he takes up residence.

At the club he meets a self-centered British songbird named Sally Bowles (Erin Rose Solorio). The two of them are soon deeply but contentiously involved. Solorio plays Bowles as she is usually depicted—a ditzy performer whose only concern is occupying the spotlight, who cares nothing for politics or for the great upheaval ahead, provoking Bradshaw’s enormous frustration.

A secondary love story involves Fraulein Schneider and fruit seller Herr Schultz (Dwayne Stincelli), both of them in late middle age and deeply in love. The relationship between Bradshaw and Bowles is increasingly rocky and ultimately doomed, but it’s the fate of Schneider and Schultz that fascinates an audience.

One of only three characters in the play who comprehend the inevitability and threat of the approaching storm—the other two are Bradshaw and Ludwig—Schneider backs out of a late-in-life wedding, hoping to survive by keeping her head down and avoiding the ire of Nazis. Beavers is heart-breaking as Schneider, with a soaring voice capable of rattling the walls.

Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Amid the merriment, the Nazi movement rises from potential menace to full tsunami, symbolized by a moment when the charming Herr Ludwig comes out of the political closet sporting a Nazi armband. Heath is very good as the villainous but totally likeable true believer.

Fraulein Schneider vows that maintaining a low profile will insure her survival; while Bradshaw tries desperately to get Bowles to leave Berlin with him—before it’s too late. Too addicted to minor league stardom to consider going elsewhere, she stays behind when he escapes to Paris. Herr Schultz is similarly clueless, believing that as a native-born German Jew he will be considered a German first.

…a compelling musical drama with moments of great hilarity…

What hooks many first-time visitors to Cabaret isn’t necessarily the morality play but the show-within-a-show at the Kit Kat Klub. Stelo-Smith is spectacular throughout, as are the dancers and the live music from a strong eight-piece band led by Nate Riebli. Tara Roberts is solid as Fraulein Kost, a resident of Fraulein Schneider’s rooming house, who makes her living entertaining sailors by the hour. She’s also one of the standout Kit Kat dancers. Devin Parker Sullivan, also a Kit Kat dancer, concocted some difficult but stunning choreography for the troupe of nine Kit Kat girls and boys.

A half-century after its debut, not much about this show will seem shocking other than its enduring message. The parallels with Trump’s MAGA movement, the January 6 insurrection—and our distraction by ephemeral entertainment—are, sadly, all too clear.


ASR NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: barry.m.willis@gmail.com


Written byMusic by John Kander and Fred Ebb

Book by Joe Masteroff
Directed byJared Sakren

Music Direction by Nate Riebli
Producing Company6th Street Playhouse
Production DatesThrough October16th
Production Address6th Street Playhouse
52 W. 6th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Telephone (707) 523-4185
Tickets$35 – $48
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!