We’re kicking off Giving Tuesday early this year! Your donation today will be matched up to $10K, doubling your impact! If you donate $50 today, the Reader will receive $100.

The Reader is now a community-funded nonprofit newsroom. Can we count on your support to help keep us publishing?

Cabaret, Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago, at Theatre Building Chicago. The temptation for a director reviving a classic musical like this 1966 portrait of the last days of Weimar Germany is to imitate a better-known production–Hal Prince’s original Broadway staging, say, or Sam Mendes’s dark, sexy 1998 version.

Director L. Walter Stearns, to his credit, chooses to add his own original touches. The most striking and successful of them is the casting of New York-based singer and performance artist Rebecca Finnegan as the amoral emcee of the Kit Kat Club. Having a woman play the role, usually given to a man, creates another layer of sexual ambivalence in a show already thick with polymorphous cupidity. At her best, Finnegan reminds one of smoky-voiced blue angel Marlene Dietrich.

Not all of Stearns’s casting choices are so happy. Meg Miller makes a rather bland Sally Bowles. And Marc Pera as the show’s main character, American writer Clifford Bradshaw, spends most of his time either smirking annoyingly or threatening to throw a tantrum when things or history are not going his way. Though the musical numbers are mostly bright and inspired, much of the story comes across as dreary and dull because the two lead roles are so sluggishly performed.