Thursday, April 17, 2014

"Cabaret" by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 on Broadway

Even though I recently saw a nearly perfect production of the brilliant classic musical Cabaret by Theater Latte Da (twice), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Alan Cumming reprise his role as the Emcee at Studio 54. And even though this is the fifth production I've seen in less than four years, there really is no limit to the number of times I will see Cabaret on stage (eight and counting - the most I've seen any musical on stage other than my favorite RENT). And it was, of course, one of those unforgettable theater experiences.

This is my fifth time writing about Cabaret on Cherry and Spoon, a record for this blog, so there's not much that I can say about it that I haven't already said. You can read my full thoughts on this genius musical here, but suffice it to say that Kander and Ebb's Cabaret is one of the best musicals ever written. Not only is it wildly entertaining with a fantastic score, but it actually means something. It's a timeless piece about the horrors of the Holocaust specifically, and genocide, intolerance, oppression, and hate in general, issues that are sadly as relevant today as they were in 1930s Berlin and 1960s America. That being said, I'll focus the rest of this blog post on the specifics of this legendary production (which officially opens on April 24 and is scheduled to run through August).

Alan Cumming's iconic Emcee
When you think about actors who've played the Emcee in Cabaret, two immediately come to mind - Joel Grey, who originated the role in the 1966 Broadway production and the 1972 movie, and Alan Cumming, who redefined it for a new generation in the 1993 London and 1998 Broadway Sam Mendes-directed productions. The Broadway revival ran for six years and became fodder for stunt casting, with some notable actors playing the role, but there's no one like the original. Alan has been playing this role for over twenty years, and it shows. He's so comfortable in his role, it oozes out of every pore. He just is, effortlessly, the Emcee, whether performing at center stage, walking through the audience and flirting with the crowd, or silently sitting on stage and observing. It's a beautiful thing to see a performer in a role with which he is so identified and in which he is so at home.

Other than Alan's incomparable performance, highlights of this production include:
  • The look of Studio 54 is perfect, the entire first floor seating consists of cabaret tables with a red lamp on each that lights, dims, and darkens on cue. Ushers and waiters are dressed as if they're part of the show. The small bare stage has three doors at the back and spiral staircases leading up to the second level, where the band sits behind a large frame.
  • The Kit Kat boys and girls double as orchestra members, and are as talented as they are gorgeous.
  • Film actor Michelle Williams is a fine Sally Bowles, but she's a little too polished and precise next to Alan's organic ease of being. This being previews, she has time to loosen up into the role.
  • One of our Broadway faves Danny Burstein (from South Pacific and Follies) is the best Herr Schultz I've seen, despite being too young and singing too pretty for the role. Linda Emond, who appeared at the Guthrie a few years ago in Tony Kushner's Intelligent Homosexual's Guide..., is also wonderful as Fraulein Schneider (although she's no Sally Wingert).
Since I missed him the first time around, I'm so grateful I was able to see Alan Cumming in this iconic role. Just one of the highlights of this incredible week of NYC theater.