By the second act of Cabaret, it’s pretty clear that the characters in Kander and Ebb’s pre-World War II musical fall into one of three camps: the Nazis, those who fear them, and those who think this Hitler business will all blow over.
In Signature Theatre’s outstanding new production of Cabaret, the very game actors playing those characters also mostly fit into three groups: the well-cast New Yorkers who came to town for the run, the reliable Signature regulars, and the D.C. actors who it’s surprising to suddenly see onstage in Virginia singing (and doing a pretty darn good job of it).
Naomi Jacobson, Rick Foucheux, and Gregory Wooddell all frequently appear in plays at Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre, and Woolly Mammoth. For theatergoers not accustomed to seeing that trio dance and sing, discovering that they can do more than just act is very willkommen thing. Jacobsen and Foucheux play Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, a Berlin boarding house matron and her favorite boarder, respectively, while Wooddell landed the role of Cliff Bradshaw, the American novelist who’s hauling a typewriter across Europe in Hemingway-esque fashion.
Like Jake Barnes and Robert Jordan, Cliff falls hard for an enigmatic European woman, in this cast one of the most coveted roles of the musical theater canon: the glamorous nightclub singer Sally Bowles. To find his Sally, director Matthew Gardiner cast some wide fishnets and found a young New Yorker named Barrett Wilbert Weed. She’s done excellent work at smaller theaters like the Atlantic, but on Broadway, the role of Sally belonged to film stars: Michelle Williams, Emma Stone, and Sienna Miller. Weed didn’t stand a chance, but thankfully, she got one at Signature, and she portrays Sally with a swoon-inducing combo of voluptuousness and vulnerability.
Signature also imported a TV star for its production: Wesley Taylor, Katherine McPhee’s gay BFF from Smash, plays The Emcee. The fictional musical Bombshell may not have made it to a real stage, but Taylor’s Rockette kicks, comic charisma, and general willingness to rock lederhosen certainly belong on one.
Leading the cast of Signature regulars is Bobby Smith, playing the Bad Guy as he so often does (recently in Threepenny and Spin), although regrettably, he doesn’t get a chance to tap this time around. Most of the ensemble members are also local, but have decent enough dance skills to play Kit Kat Club girls and guys with aplomb.
A strong, clearly audible nine-piece orchestra playing on a catwalk above the stage completes the Cabaret experience. Signature sacrificed some ticket sales to instead sit some patrons on tables near the stage. A turntable keeps Misha Kachman’s simple sets revolving between the club, train cars, and various rooms in the boarding house. The characters who rotate between scenes may find their loyalties divided, but as anyone who speaks ein bißchen Deutsch would agree, Signature has achieved gestalt.
4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. $29–$95. (703) 820-9771. signature-theatre.org.