Tucked in a pod mall near the Sportsmen’s Lodge and Wallpapers-to-Go, producer Susan Dietz and partner Marilyn Shapiro have created a smoke-free, alcohol-free cabaret that features coffee, deserts and entertainment. The opener , “An Off Broadway Cabaret,” places the entrepreneurs fast out of the starting block with a well-directed revue of Off Broadway melodies — sanitized but entertaining.
Bonnie Franklin, Byron Nease, Teri Ralston and Gary Sandy create a more lively quartet than the recent “Sweet, Smart, Rodgers & Hart” foursome at the Pasadena Playhouse, Dietz’s old stomping grounds. The songs — from Sondheim’s “Assassins,” Schmidt & Jones’ “The Fantastics,” Schwartz’s “Godspell” and Besoyan’s “Little Mary Sunshine,” among others — are boldly choreographed for a small stage by director Lara Teeter.
The most exciting music comes from “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris”; the lyrics leap out, making much of the rest pedestrian in comparison. Sandy’s rendition of “Jackie,” in particular, highlights the show.
Of the four, Sandy seems best suited to this music, not that the other three don’t have great voices. Franklin clearly adores cabaret singing, as was evident four years ago in the Pasadena Playhouse production of Judith Viorst’s “Love & Guilt & the Meaning of Life” (produced by Dietz and directed by Shapiro). Franklin just doesn’t get any song now that moves as much as “Henry” did then.
Nease’s “Alabama Song,” from Brecht & Weill’s “Mahagonny,” has to compete with the memorable Doors version, which was mixed with angst and anger. Nease, with his controlled and pleasant voice, shines much better with Brel’s “I Loved.”
Ralston, also affable (which could be the adjective for the evening), stands out with Maltby & Shire’s “You Wanna Be My Friend.”
The show ends in a blaze of choreography and tight ensemble work with Brel’s “Carousel.”
Musical director Shelly Markham accompanies satisfactorily throughout on piano.