AMERICAN FORK — At first glance, with its penchant for joyful decadence and unabashed depictions of sensual indulgence, the musical Cabaret seems like a great choice to open the exciting Utah Valley Pride Theatre Festival. However, as the story progresses it becomes clear that the ever-present political threats that undermine the lives of the characters make Cabaret not only a a great fit, but also an alarm bell and urgent reminder of the true purpose of Pride festivals.

Show closes June 16, 2023.

Daydreamer Theatre’s production of Cabaret demonstrates just what is at stake if society is to avoid repeating the downfall into the nationalistic fascism of Berlin a century ago. Through song, dance and story, Cabaret exposes the fact that no one is safe when minorities and the LGBTQ+ community are not safe. And likewise, but less obviously: when all are free and safe to explore who they are and how they love, new and beautiful ways of living in relationship can emerge. It is no wonder that stages large and small around the world are seeing a surge of interest in Cabaret (with its book by Joe Masteroff,  music by John Kander, and lyrics by Fred Ebb).

The action centers on two tragic love stories. First, that of the aspiring actress and manic pixie dreamgirl Sally Bowles (played by Brianna Meikle) and her starving author — but ultimately righteous — beau Clifford Bradshaw (played by Michael Howell). Cliff, an American uncomfortable with his own queer desires meets the effervescent Sally on New Years Eve at the divey Berlin Kit Kat Club. They quickly form an attachment, and she moves in with him the next day. Sally and Cliff are a challenging stage pairing that Meikle and Howell handle well. Meikle is not the powerhouse vocalist of some of the greats that have tackled this famous role, but she brings the right mix of pathos and charm in her big solo numbers like “Maybe this Time,” and “Cabaret.” Her unstable “British” accent is initially one of the shows weak spots, but Meikle brings enough vulnerability to the role that soon enough I could soon ignore it. Howell’s Cliff is perfectly adequate. The character as written is the sort of boring everyman that allows an American audience to feel self-righteous in our judgement that we too would encourage our alcoholic quasi-girlfriend to not have an abortion, just as we too would punch a Nazi, even if he has been kind enough to bring us into his smuggling operation. As Fraulein Schneider (Cliff’s landlady) points out to him, it is very easy to stand on principals when you can run back home to your mother before the fight. Which is exactly Cliff’s plan.

Fraulein Schneider (played by with humor and grace by Jordan Kramer) and her sweet local green-grocer, Herr Schultz (played by Rich Higenbotham), make up the second romance in the story. This pair’s late-in-life, fruit-based courtship is drawn in stark contrast to the pleasure-romp of Cliff and Sally. While the young people drink and dance their night’s into oblivion, the older couple is content to cuddle comfortably on the sofa, chiding the young folks’ immorality as needed. But, when Schultz’s identity as a Jew is revealed to an acquaintance, a rising Nazi party member, Schneider must is forced to make a difficult choice. Will she stand up and possibly risk her life for her newfound love, or will she fall back on her pragmatic “So what” approach to life? The villain, Ernst Ludwig, is played with wolfish charm and power by Michael Combs.

These two plots are encased by the antic performance of Zack Elzey as the Emmcee. With bleach blonde hair and white faceprint, Elzey is unrecognizable from previous roles I have seen him in, but is as excellent as ever. He carves an exhilarating and terrifying arch for the show from his engaging opening number, “Wilkommen,” to his cheeky “Two Ladies,” all the way to the final moment of the show, which left me gasping. 

The ensemble performances are compelling across the board, though perhaps hindered by the small stage. The visible orchestra is in on the action and up to the task. Director, lighting and set designer Kacey Spadafora, choreographer Chantelle Wells, and music director Amelia Rose Moore have done better than might be expected with a converted movie theater space. On the whole, the production is lacking a sharpness that would make it great, but this Cabaret is not out of sync with the air of decay inherent to the story. Costumes by Pan Lynn Arcadia, a longtime collaborator with An Other Theatre Company, are appropriately inappropriate and cleverly simple.

Though I worry Spadafora has perhaps taken too much onto his plate in this production, I fully appreciate that he is never shy to get to the heart of the work he directs, and he pulls no punches here. Cabaret explores the complex interweaving of issues like anti-Semitism, sex work, poverty, gender expression, and reproductive rights, with the dangerous rise of political nationalism that bends inexorably toward fascism. The producers have knit together a powerful story that is disconcertingly resonate for an audience more than 50 years removed from Cabaret’s 1966 premiere on Broadway. There is no better show I can think of to help us remember that the first Pride was a riot.

The Daydreamer Theatre Company production of Cabaret performs nightly at 7:30 PM (except Sundays) through June 16 at The Towne Hub (120 West Main Street, American Fork) as part of the Utah Valley Pride Theatre Festival. Tickets are $20. For tickets and information see their