Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

CabaretManatee Players
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Don Giovanni

Aaron Castle and Cast
Photo by Mike Fults
Manatee Players is serving up an extremely fine production of Cabaret, score by Kander and Ebb and book by Joe Masteroff. The musical is based on stories by Christopher Isherwood as adapted for the stage in a play entitled I Am a Camera by John Van Druten.

I saw this musical pre-broadway in Boston with its electric performance by Joel Grey that won him a Tony Award and later an Oscar in a much revised film directed by Bob Fosse. Director Sam Mendes took a fresh look at the piece in London at Donmar Warehouse in 1993; that production was the basis for a 1998 Broadway revival co-directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall. It is this version, with revised book and several songs replaced with songs written for the movie, that is on stage at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts. (In case anyone is wondering if the themes are still relevant, I am writing this, as a proud Jew, active in my local temple, on the day of the largest single anti-Semitic attack this country has ever seen.)

Producing Artistic Director and director/choreographer of this production Rick Kerby has assembled another strong cast, headlined by Aaron Castle as the Emcee. Mr. Castle made a fine debut in Newsies a few months back, but that did not prepare me for the range of this young man's talents. He sings and dances, no surprise there, but he also does some fine acting. Rick Kerby has envisioned that, as Berlin crumbles, the denizens of the Kit Kat Klub succumb to the euphoria of drugs and his Emcee is right in the center of this. Cassandra Santiso as Sally Bowles balances the limited talents the character is supposed to have with fine singing to put over some of the best songs Kander and Ebb ever wrote ("Mein Herr," "Don't Tell Mama," "Maybe This Time," and the title tune).

Favorite leading man Omar Montes is saddled with having to play what is most likely the least interesting leading male role in all of musical theater, Cliff Bradshaw, a stand-in for Isherwood. Not only is the character less interesting than the characters who surround him, he has nothing of importance to sing, only half of a weak duet ("Perfectly Marvelous") and in the final few moments of act two, he joins the Emcee for a reprise of "Willkommen." Our senior couple is played by Ellen Kleinschmidt, in a sympathetic performance as Fraulein Schneider, and Rodd Dyer, racking up another fine supporting role as Herr Schultz. All of the cameo roles are well taken by Manatee Players veterans.

Rick Kerby brings interesting ideas to this production. Besides the drug use taking over The Kit Kat Klub, he envisions that the club's talent levels are not very high, so the musical numbers always feel a little less than perfectly performed, and I believe that is intentional, making the goings on inside the club more dramatically realistic. He has staged several moments that the show's authors meant to be uncomfortable very well, but many years of exposure to this musical have removed most of the shock from my emotional palette. This is some of Kerby's most imaginative work.

William Coleman is musical director, assisted by the regulars who almost always appear in the pit at this venue. They are seated on the stage at the rear of The Kit Kat Klub, and it is fun to watch them at work.

Ken Mooney has designed a seedy-looking club and a flat drops in to set the stage for several locations at Fraulein Schneider's home. Becky Evans has designed costumes in sync with the director's artistic ideas, and Joseph P. Oshry does his always exemplary job of lighting everything. Jay Poppe contributes projections that contribute here and there, but are not a major technical element.

Cabaret appears regularly on area stages, the last time less than four years ago. It is an important musical, seemingly always relevant, even when we pray it would no longer be. Manatee Players' version is an excellent one.

Manatee Players' Cabaret, through November 11, 2018, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit

Editor's note: an incorrect song credit in the original review has been corrected.

The Cast:
Emcee: Aaron Castle
Sally Boles: Cassandra Santiso
Cliff Bradshaw: Omar Montes
Fraulein Schneider: Ellen Kleinschmidt
Herr Schultz: Rodd Dyer
Fraulein Kost: Michelle Anaya
Ernst Ludwig: Bradley Keville
Max: Tanner Fults
Rose: Skyler Homan
Lulu: Kaleigh Valach
Frenchie: Anna Grace Robinette
Texas: Melissa Ingrisano
Fritzie: Josh Roberson
Helga: Audrey Lipton
Bobby: Eli Gilbert
Victor: James Sheppard V
Chanteuse: Michelle Anaya
Sailors: Eli Gilbert, James Sheppard V
Nazi Youth: Suggie Toynton

The Orchestra:
Conductor Keyboard: William Coleman
2nd Keyboard: Aaron Cassette & Rebecca Heintz
Reeds: Teri Booth
Trumpet: Victor Mongillo
:Percussion: John Januszewski