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From the first potent image of the Emcee (Alex Nee) rising out of a smoky, Stygian darkness, director Michael Matthews announces his intention of challenging our thoughts about Kander and Ebb’s classic musical Cabaret. This does not mean that Matthews is disrespectful of the material. He’s too good a director to make arbitrary or perverse decisions just to be different. It means that he has studied the script and score in such detail that he is able to find a concept that is personal, provocative, and original.

Cabaret has a complex history with many permutations of the basic story. Christopher Isherwood's quasi-autobiographical Berlin Stories' views the rise of Nazism during the Weimar Republic through the passive eyes of a British visitor. John Van Druten dramatized the stories in his 1951 play, I am a Camera, where a young Julie Harris captivated audiences as the irrepressible Sally Bowles.

Hal Prince’s original 1966 Cabaret production was a tremendous artistic and popular success despite the fact that it explored adult topics previously unknown in Broadway musicals. Bob Fosse’s seminal 1972 film version of Cabaret was undeniably brilliant and boundary-pushing, but it differed greatly from the Broadway original, both in plot and in the additional songs that Kander & Ebb wrote specifically for Liza Minnelli. The current version of the show is the one used by the 1998 Broadway revival which interpolates songs from the film and features a revised book that is franker than was possible in 1966.

Matthews’ incisive direction propels the action forward while making sure that every moment is completely realized. In this, he is aided by a strong cast of actor/singers. Nee’s Emcee is a magnetic force of nature who can growl or caress a lyric for maximum effect. While the Emcee has always been an integral part of Cabaret, the role has grown exponentially in importance and stage time over the years. Nee is nearly omnipresent, bringing a dangerous, feral showmanship to his numbers. But, where most Emcees remain aloof and otherworldly throughout, Nee offers glimpses of the man beneath the mask. His humanity is on full display during a searing rendition of “I Don’t Care Much.”

Talisa Friedman’s wonderfully expressive face allows us to see each tiny crack in Sally Bowles’ optimistic façade. She performs the club numbers with an irresistible enthusiasm but can turn on a dime as she does in a devastatingly emotional “Maybe This Time.”  Christopher Maikish is sympathetic as Cliff, the visiting American writer who loses his innocence in Berlin. It’s not his fault that the role of passive observer remains a literary device that none of the dramatic adaptations have adequately solved.

June Carryl’s strongly sung Fraulein Schneider may bluster and complain, but her heart is easily accessed. This gives her doomed relationship with the Jewish Herr Schultz, endearingly played by Matthew Henerson, an inevitability which is all the more painful when it ends. Katherine Tokarz’s eminently practical Fraulein Kost blends hints of Madeline Kahn and Lesley Ann Warren into a delicious concoction all her own that handily steals every scene she’s in. (Tokarz plays the role only through July 15.)

Matthews knows how to use the tiny Celebration Theatre space effectively, and he has gathered a creative team who all share his vision. Stephen Gifford’s detailed and smoke filled sets offer just enough to suggest the locations, while Matthew Brian Denman’s expert lighting completes the picture. Michael Mullen’s costumes are the essence of sexy, shabby chic and deftly introduce contemporary touches. Janet Roston’s choreography is energetic and appropriate for the less than stellar dancers the Kit Kat Klub would have employed, while Music Director Anthony Zediker leads the band in a vigorous reading of the score.

There’s no doubt that the rise of a graceless leader who adroitly uses showmanship, racial tensions, and outright lies to fuel his political career has resonance for today’s audience. I go back and forth about whether the few moments when Matthews tips his hand to blatantly make his point are any more effective for being so baldly stated. But, in the end, they don’t affect the impact of this terrifically persuasive revival.

Celebration Theatre @ The Lex    June 1 – July 15, 2018



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.