From page to stage to screen, “Cabaret” has been beguiling audiences — and disturbing them — for nearly 80 years. Set in prewar Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party, the play imparts a sense of impending doom while (in the musical version) entertaining viewers with its bold sexual expression and provocative song and dance.
A new, intimate and smart revival at the San Francisco Playhouse brings a roster deep with talent, from the performers to the costumers to the musicians playing behind a translucent curtain. But it is John Paul Gonzalez, the coquettish, gender-fluid Master of Ceremonies, and the remarkably gifted Cate Hayman (a senior at Carnegie Mellon University and Bay Area native) as boozy, come-hither Kit Kat Klub singer Sally Bowles who wow the crowd.
The Jews are represented by Herr Schultz (Louis Parnell), an elderly fruit seller and romantic who can’t imagine that his native country would consider him anything other than German. Should you attend on a night when Parnell is off, the understudy for the role is Efi Lubliner, an Israeli who came to California years ago to study radio, TV, film and drama, and has been in the Bay Area since 1982.
This play’s powerful depiction of a darkening time and its prophetic message remain hauntingly relevant today. Artistic director Bill English states in the program notes that SF Playhouse has brought “Cabaret” to the local stage “to make history chilling and real and remind us not only to never forget, but that we must be on watch lest it repeat itself.”