“Cabaret” seemed like an odd choice for a follow-up to the American Repertory Theater’s amazing first season under the artistic direction of Diane Paulus. But Paulus once again proves she knows how to pick a winner.


Club Oberon, (home of Paulus’ uber-successful “Donkey Show”) has been turned into the Kit Kat Klub, a vulgar, garish saloon where the underbelly and the upper-crust of 1931 Berlin meet to indulge in whatever tickles their fancy.


Director Steven Bogart moves enough action off-stage to make patrons feel like they’re experiencing the seedy side of life firsthand. Nearly nude humans climb across tables and swing over railings, working the crowd while the show unfolds onstage.


Despite her marquee value, former Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer is rather adequate as the Emcee (a role usually played by men). Palmer seems to struggle with the lower ranges of some songs, but a haunting rendition of “I Don’t Care Much” will give you chills and make you forgive any of her earlier missteps.


Aly Trasher fares much better as Sally Bowles, delivering a gut-wrenching version of “Cabaret” that perfectly aligns the club’s atmosphere with the impending doom of the outside world.

Bogart takes risks, but it’s the black dildos, festooned with mini-Nazi flags, that’ll make you realize this is not Liza Minnelli’s “Cabaret.”

And that’s a good thing.