TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – It doesn’t take much to imagine The Forst Inn stage as a brash nightspot of tawdry intimacy.

For the musical “Cabaret,” the space represents decadence on the brink of a fall of a society – 1930 Berlin, Germany, with the early foul whiffs of Nazism in the air.

“Come to the cabaret, my friend” of the famed song has the lure of temptation, especially sexuality in all its hues.

Every production of every play creates an experience of its own, and The Forst Inn Arts Collective has special takes on the story:

An American writer comes to Berlin in search of material for a novel. Immediately, he witnesses a clandestine act of smuggling, finds a cheap room and on that very night crosses paths with a saucy diva when he is swept into lurid nightlife on New Year’s Eve. The two soon live together. Woven in are other stories. The Kit Kat Klub emcee is a narrator of sorts. The writer’s landlady finds the right guy in the wrong place at the wrong time in a case of love not willing out.

“Cabaret” is a deliciously complex musical with ample bad taste involved.

Director Lisa Heili’s bio in the program is enticing – “an international woman of intrigue.” Idea-filled Lisa Heili has collaborators in the company.

Company mainstay Michael Sheeks and players in the show stir action in the “cabaret” beforehand with chat and frisky byplay.

Within the show, wheels are turning all around in how to approach the story. Three key ones:

One. Jessica Marie Green portrays the Emcee. The role is typically played by a male. Some of the sexual bits in dances stay the same. But Jessica Marie Green adds background appearances to the main action of some scenes. Notable is the Emcee’s presence in an act of violence. Jessica Marie Green also is one of the choreographers. That’s especially noticeable in the flow and strength of the darkly comical “If You Could See Her,” with Jessica Iannitello as “Her,” a gorilla. Toward the end, Jessica Marie Green creates very much a haunting presence with the Emcee.

Jessica Marie Green as Emcee. (The Forst Inn Arts Collective)

Two. David Bowman multi-tasks as music director, one of the rousers in the house, pianist for the on-stage orchestra, and the character of Max, the slimeball who runs the Kit Kat Klub. David Bowman is nimble all around, adding much to the distinctiveness of this production.

Three. A major interpretation always involves Sally Bowles, the Kit Kat Klub star whose star crosses that of writer Clifford Bradshaw – performed surely by Sophia Bartels and Phillip Jindra. Of high importance is the song, “Cabaret.” One version finds Sally Bowles as drunken, wasted, slurry – one would expect of a life lived too fast and on booze. The other version is the popular one, with Sally Bowles singing invitingly of the cabaret as a fun place to go to forget worries. Sophia Bartels creates this warmer version, including a bit of frazzle at the end to feed into the next scene with Sally Bowles delivering bad news to Clifford Bradshaw. Sophia Bartels also is strong in two other popular songs, “Don’t Tell Mama” and the dramatic “Maybe This Time.”

The experienced company commits to letting loose in revealing garb in scene after scene – cheesy dance bits, risqué language or maneuvers and generally salacious stuff, with the Emcee/Jessica Marie Green usually the catalyst.

Adding a tone of hope-turned-sadness are Melissa MacDonald as pragmatic landlady Fraulein Schneider and David Bouffard as kindly grocer Herr Schultz. In ways, these characters are the true story of “Cabaret” – the everyday people caught in the gears of a large wheel turning with a will of its own. Melissa MacDonald’s singing draws on that feeling.

Of note is Brad Leonhardt as the smooth-talking Nazi organizer, Ernst Ludwig. Brad Leonhardt just last month portrayed the same role (also effectively) in an Attic Chamber Theatre production of “Cabaret” on a large stage in Menasha.

Like that production, The Forst Inn Arts Collective’s has the aura of a reminder, that this is a story that needs to be told, again.

Finale.

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Running time: Two hours, 32 minutes

Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16; 4 p.m. Sept. 17; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23; 4 p.m. Sept. 24; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30 and 2 p.m. Oct. 2

Info: forstinn.org

Creative: Based on the stories by Christopher Isherwood, based on the play by John Van Druten; book – Joe Masteroff; music and lyrics – John Kander and Fred Ebb; stage direction/technical design – Lisa Heili; music direction – David Bowman; choreography – Katie Shimulunas, Jessica Marie Green; lighting – Derek Frenz; sound – Jeff LaFond; stage management – Missie Wendorf; hair and make-up – Jeanette Greenwood Kane; photography – Tessa Komorowski Jindra 

Cast (alphabetical):

Sally Bowles – Sophia Bartels

Herr Schultz – David Bouffard

Max – David Bowman

German Girl – Leven Erickson

Emcee – Jessica Marie Green

Rosie – Jessica Iannitello

Clifford Bradshaw – Phillip Jindra

Fraulein Kost – Tessa Komorowski Jindra

Ernst Ludwig – Brad Leonhardt

Bobby – Logan Lopez

Fraulein Schneider – Melissa McDonald

Lulu – Shannon Paige

Fritzie – Katie Jo Shimulunas

Victor – Brittieny Simmer

Helga – Emily Tyeptanar

Orchestra: David Bowman (keyboards), Kristy Woller, Dennis Kosloski (reeds), Chris Woller, Tim James (trumpet), Brian VanElls (trombone), Noah Ireland (bass), Garrett Leigh, Jonel Ramirez (drums)

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Musical numbers

Act I

Overture – Orchestra

“Willkommen” – Emcee and Company

“Welcome to Berlin” – Emcee

“So What?” – Fräulein Schneider

“Don’t Tell Mama” – Sally and Kit Kats

“Mein Herr” – Sally and Girls

“Perfectly Marvelous” – Sally and Cliff

“Two Ladies” – Emcee plus two

“It Couldn’t Please Me More” (Pineapple Song) – Fräulein Schneider, Herr Schultz and Emcee

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” – young voice

“Maybe This Time” – Sally

“Money” – Emcee and Kit Kat Girls and Boys

“Married” – Herr Schultz, Fräulein Schneider, Fräulein Kost

“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” (Reprise) – Fräulein Kost, Ernst Ludwig and chorus of guests

Act II

“Entr’acte” – The Kit Kat Band

“Married” (Reprise) – Herr Schultz

“If You Could See Her” (Gorilla Song) – Emcee

“What Would You Do?” – Fräulein Schneider

“I Don’t Care Much” – Emcee

“Cabaret” – Sally

“Willkommen” (Reprise) / “Finale Ultimo” – Emcee, Cliff and Company

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NEXT: “Carrie The Musical,” Oct. 14-30.

THE VENUE: The historic Forst Inn is located at the corner of Kewaunee County roads B and BB in Tisch Mills. The building dates to 1868, and it has led assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit. The stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area.  A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective overseen by Michael Sheeks, who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus in Manitowoc.