"I enjoy exploring my dark side. It's exciting."
Tall and thin, hair slicked back and eyes glinting piercingly from behind a face covered in thick white paint, Jonathon Eberhardt explains his role as the emcee in the Repertory Theatre Company's production of Cabaret, opening this weekend at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
Red lipstick completes the image of the ever-smiling, malevolent clown. Eberhardt is damn creepy.
For many of us, Cabaret evokes memories of big-eyed Liza Minnelli, bawdy songs and a menacing Nazi presence in the 1972 film version with freaky Joel Grey as the emcee, who kept popping up at the most bizarre moments.
Minnelli got the acclaim, but the emcee ran the show.
Surprisingly, Eberhardt has not seen the film but his sycophantic performance is "menacingly seductive," according to director Julian Bucknall. Eberhardt relishes his character's extravagance.
Cabaret itself is extravagant; glamour and glitz abound in a tale of love, escapism and human tragedy based on Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories.
The tale begins on New Year's Eve 1930. Struggling writer Clifford Bradshaw arrives in Berlin and falls for Sally Bowles, the lead singer and dancer at the Kit Kat Klub. They become lovers, Sally gets pregnant and Clifford's traditional ideas of love and commitment clash with the more pragmatic but overly optimistic Sally. Clifford returns to America while Sally continues to work at the Klub chasing an unlikely dream, oblivious to the rising Nazi threat.
It's hardly an optimistic tale, but the musical numbers and the glitz of the dancing, choreographed by Zetta Alderman and Maria Tucker, promise a rousing night at the theater.
Alderman and Tucker pay homage to the styles developed by Bob Fosse, the director and choreographer of the film's dance numbers. But the movie changed many plot details and it is director Bucknall's intention to return to the original story in this production.
One of the changes that may surprise audiences is that Sally is a teenager. Bucknall has cast 17-year-old Taylor O'Donnell in her first major role, which contrasts with other productions that starred more experienced, older women: Minnelli was 26 in the film and Natasha Richardson was 35 in Sam Mendes' 1998 Broadway stage production.
Sally's age is relevant particularly in relation to some of the decisions she makes, which made by an older person seem overly naive. O'Donnell is vibrant, has a beautiful voice and even at her most daring exudes a sense of innocence.
The cast also includes an engaging David Jackson as Clifford who not only is a foil to Sally's naivet, but also a witness to the disintegration of German civility.
Michael Augenstein and Sue Bachman, as Herr Shultz and Frulein Schneider, are charming, especially when they serenade each other in the touching love song "Married." Tragically, their love is doomed because Shultz is a Jew.
The Kit Kat Klub Kittens ban all tragedy and nostalgia to the back door with their cheeky sexuality and fast-paced dance numbers.
But it is O'Donnell and Eberhardt who carry the burden of the established roles. O'Donnell belts out a powerfully mischievous rendition of "Don't Tell Momma." Eberhardt's "Wilkommen" and "Money" effectively capture the creepiness behind the emcee's smile.
The creepiness is what Bucknall wants audiences to remember. Civility is fragile and any society is liable to disintegrate if it blinds itself to human needs, assumes a sense of superiority and buys into xenophobic patriotism. The Kit Kat Klub looks like an escape, but it is an illusion. Darkness permeates and it wears a smiling face.
Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St.
Fri.-Sat., Feb. 4-27, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.
Tickets: $22 FAC members in advance, $24 public in advance, $26 at the door.
Contact 634-5583 or www.csfineartscenter.org for more information