Cabaret Cabaret succeeds or fails on the strength of its Sally Bowles, and director Robert A. Mitchell has chosen well in burlesque star Lola Van Ella. Van Ella has a great voice and an even better sense of comic timing to go with her not inconsiderable physical charms. Sally is flighty, capricious and perfectly endearing in her emotional neediness, and Van Ella breaks any number of hearts during "Maybe This Time," a valedictory for perpetual losers. Stephen Barnowski's Cliff disappears in the shadows cast by Van Ella's luminous performance at times, but he acquits himself well overall. As the Emcee, Keith Parker wears a cringe-inducing Japanese rope harness, but delivers a generous helping of creepy, campy sexuality. The musical numbers are strong throughout, but what's missing — and what is needed — is a sense of menace. Michael B. Perkins' turn as Ernst explodes into a complex blend of arrogance, self-righteousness and Judenhass, but then Ernst is gone and so is any overt threat. It's a strange thing to wish for more Nazis, but there it is; without their looming violence, Cabaret passes from powerful theater to merely entertaining musical. Presented by the NonProphet Theater Company through August 1 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Boulevard. Tickets are $15 to $25. Call 636-236-4831 or visit www.nptco.org.
— Paul Friswold
It Had to be You Stellie Siteman and Jerry Vogel comprise the agreeable cast of this formulaic two-character courtship comedy, set on Christmas Eve in New York City. Originally written by, for and mostly about the hyperkinetic Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna, this easygoing staging from a new theater company called Max and Louie Productions relies more on soft-sell than in-your-face. The laughs tend to flow naturally, of their own accord. The plot is fairly predictable in an unpredictable kind of way — which is to say that from the outset, we know where these characters are going to end up; we just don't know the specifics of how they're going to get there. The play, which offers nothing of substance, is the most inoffensive kind of escapist fare. And yet, on a hot summer night, a Christmas comedy can feel downright cooling. Through August 1 at the Jewish Community Center, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur. Tickets are $25 ($20 for students and seniors). Call 800-838-3006 or visit www.maxandlouie.com.
— Dennis Brown
Promises, Promises This once-popular Neil Simon/Burt Bacharach/Hal David musical based on Billy Wilder’s perfect 1960 movie satire The Apartment gets the Stages treatment — which means that, despite occasional moments where the acting personalities transcend the staging (most particularly, Ben Nordstrom and Brandi Wooten for ten blissful minutes at the top of Act Two) — Promises, Promises winds up feeling (and sounding) like just about every other Stages St. Louis production. When this wistful musical premiered in 1968, it introduced a unique pop score that moved Broadway music in a new direction. Here, alas, the once-driving melodies by Bacharach and David are about as exciting as listening to “the best of Broadway” on Muzak. Through August 15 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 S. Geyer Road, Kirkwood. Tickets are $49 ($28 for children, $46 for seniors; rush seats for students and seniors $15 at the door). Call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org. (DB)