Last night in (North) Little Rock: ACT opens up with Cabaret

July 26, 2012

In a sense, there’s no reason for me to write this, because if you don’t already have your tickets to the Argenta Community Theater’s production of Cabaret, the John Kander/Fred Ebb musical set in Berlin in the waning days of the Weimar Republic, you’re pretty much out of luck. I understand that the remaining performances — there’s one tonight, tomorrow night and Saturday — are sold out.

(There is a waiting list. You can call 501-353-1571 — to get on it. Tickets are $15-$35.)

On the other hand, I’m one of those people who receives “community theater” as a pejorative term. I hear it, and I think of some of the worst productions I’ve ever seen, Waiting For Guffman,-style egoism and various other soul-sapping atrocities. (I was in a few productions in my day. Your monkey has portrayed both Simon Stimson and George Gibbs.) So maybe I need to say this — ACT’s Cabaret, directed by the Arkansas Rep’s Bob Hupp (in a gesture of solidarity between the two companies), is actually quite good. At the very least it’s the best community theater production I have ever seen.

It’s not really amateur production — though the cast and crew were working for free. While producer Vincent Insalco stressed that ACT wasn’t “trying to be the Rep,” the show I saw last night wasn’t much off the standards set by the older company, and it wasn’t hard to imagine the talent featured in this production performing a few blocks south. Aside from a few erratic German accents, last night’s performance was just excellent.

I don’t know whether or not Hupp or the choreographers — Kirby and Christen Pitts — simplified or other tailored the routines, but all the dancers seemed well within their comfort zones and all the singers were able to subtly communicate the emotive content of the material as well as land on the proper notes.

And another thing — I don’t know that I’d ever actually seen a stage production of Cabaret before; I’m familiar with the movie, of course, but the plot of the play is more than a little different (though louche themes are retained).

(And yet another thing, where have all my Christopher Isherwood books gone? I used to have both Goobye to Berlin and Berlin Stories in my library — last night I discovered both are missing. Round up the usual suspects.)

While Cabaret might not seem the most ambitious choice, it is perfectly suited to ACT’s cozy theater space. It was a great way to debut the company. I wanted to take notice.

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