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A CurtainUp Prequel and Review
Review of the Re-Revival

Prequel Background Feature With Production Notes, Song list andPictures
Review of 1998 Production

 Emma Stone
Emma Stone
The revival proved successful enough to extend to 3/29/15--and got a second round of even greater rave reviews when Emma Stone took over the role of Sally Bowles in December-- she will be playing Sally until 2/15/15.
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go 'round.
A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound
A buck or a pound
A buck or a pound
Is all that makes the world go around

— Lyric from "Money" one of Kander and Ebb's hit strewn Cabaret.
Now that I've been back to the Kit Kat Club let me assure you that, whether you saw Sam Mendes' updated interpretation during its 6-year run (first at the Henry Miller Theater and later at Studio 54) or not, don't miss this chance to see Alan Cumming reprise his ground-breaking take on the Kit Kat Klub's Emcee. To say good as ever would be an understatement.

As he reinvented this ambiguous in his sexuality and politics character that musical theater aficionados thought belonged to Joel Grey, so Cumming has reinvigorated his larger-than life multi-layered portrayal. Being older actually deepens the mordant, worn persona that makes his Emcee the show's electrifying wellspring from the moment the spotlight lights on him doing his famous "Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome" and he sheds his black leather coat to reveal the erotic, bare-chested tuxedo of his more diabolical than ingratiating clown-host. Wilkommen indeed to a frantically festive pre-World War II Berlin with the glazed eyes of the dancers symbolizing their blindness to the surge of Nazism around them.

While some critics have grumbled about this being a case of more of the same, there's nothing been-there-done-that about this production. Sure I anticipated the shattering final image, but that didn't keep me from being stunned with emotion. And, of course, there's Kander and Ebb's indestructibly dazzling mix of a serious and substantial book with a rich and diverse score. Not a single number without their sublime rhythms and incisive lyrics.

Immersive theatrical experiences like Studio 54's cabaret set-up have become more commonplace. However, it's fun to once more sit at those little tables with the red-shaded lamps flickering throughout the orchestra. And there's plenty new to be savored in the actors now playing the subsidiary roles. Though her name appears above the title, that includes Michelle Williams's Sally Bowles.

That said, unless you're locked into memories of others who memorably portrayed Sally Bowles (if you're old enough, that would include Lotte Lenya who was herself a refugee from Nazi Germany), Williams actually brings a quite fresh and valid interpretation to the jaded, fun and sex loving, apolitical Brit. Surprisingly, the actress who's made her reputation in non-musical roles, is at her best when she's singing.

It's because Cumming is so much the cynosure here and also because Linda Emond and Danny Burstein who play two of the other pivotal characters are so good that Williams's Sally doesn't come off as quite as much a star as Cumming.

Linda Emond has exhibited superb acting chops in many straight plays like Homebody/Kabul and Death of a Salesman is a revelation as the pragmatic boardinghouse keeper. Who knew she could sing as magnificently, as she does in solos like "So What" and "What Would You Do?" and her duet with Herr Schultz (the ideally cast Burstein), her Jewish but oh so German fruit merchant suitor in "It Couldn't Please Me More."

As for Sally's romantic counterpart, the bi-sexual Clifford Bradshaw's (the book's stand-in character for author Christopher Isherwood), Bill Heck is also quite fine. Like Emond, he's new to singing but does so quite creditably.

The third couple to fill in the subplot adds to the something new assets of this Cabaret: Aaron Krohn as Ernst Ludwig, the German who befriends and eventually disillusions Clifford and Gayle Ranin as Fraulein Kost. Rankin is a standout as the hard-hearted rather than gold-hearted prostitute.

The ensemble and the band are in fine shape. The doubling up of as musicians and dancers is as breathtaking as ever, especially when at the top of the second Act they all do a Rockette-like that morphs into a goose-step signifying the increasing threat of Nazism in full swing.

I don't recall Cumming breaking the fourth wall with a a second act bit of audience interaction during which he pulls a woman and then a man from their seats close to the stage and dances briefly with them. New or old, it struck me as his one misstep. But what's one misstep in two and a half hours of serious but entertaining musical theater.

Highly recommended!

Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming and the current Kit Kat Club Boys and girls (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Cabaret cast members
Bill Hecht, Michelle Williams, Danny Burstein and Linda Emond (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Kander and Ebb's Cabaret is one of those rare chameleonic musicals that can withstand repeated viewings and interpretations. Kander's score, Ebb's lyrics and Joe Masteroff's book have sustained the show status as a masterpiec. Since its original 1966 production with Joel Grey, Jill Haworth and Lotte Lenya countless actors have played the Emcee, Sally Bowles and Freulein Schneider.
The music and story can stand up even in scaled down regional productions with unknown actors. This was the case with Julianne Boyd's Cabaret which had New York musical aficionados riding up to the Berkshires (
my review).

But there's something special to have a Tony Award-winning production return to the scene of its original triumph, with the same director and original Emcee aboard. And that's exactly what's happening at Studio 54.

I can't wait to see Alan Cumming back in bow tie, suspenders and bare chest. Cummings, who's become my favorite introducer for Public Broadcasting's mystery series and also endeared himself with The Good Wife fans as the Illinois political operative Ely Gold, was a mesmerizing Emcee. But it's been sixteen years so it will be quite a leap for the distinguished looking Ely with his hair turning gray at the temples to get back into that androgynous role. My bet is that he'll not only do it, but being more mature, will bring something new and special to this reprise.

Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams (Joan Marcus)
Sadly, the beautiful Natasha Richardson, the Sally Bowles of that 1998 production, is no longer with us as the result of a fatal accident. However, current revival does have a lovely new Sally in Michelle Williams, best known as Jen Lindley on the The WB television teen drama Dawson's Cree , her Oscar-nomnated take on Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, and with previous excellent stage turns in The Cherry Orchard ( review ) and Smelling a Rat ( review). "she plays it like this eccentric little waif" and is the most mysterious Sally he's encountered. As you can see from the image I've included, Williams is certainly a very beautiful Sally.

The actors in the other key roles— Danny Burstein as Herr Schultz, Linda Emond as Freulein Schneider and Bill Heck as Cliff Bradshaw— all promise to be more than "wilkommen" additions.

Until I catch up with the current production and post my review , here some pictures, production notes — and a link to Curtainup's review with song list of Sam Mendes's edgy take when it first played at Studio 54, and a follow-up with a new cast in 2002. review

Based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories
Music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb
Directed by Sam Mendes
Co-directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall
Cast: Allan Cumming (Emcee, Michelle Williams (SallyBowles),Danny Burstein (Herr Schultz), Linda Emond (Freulein Schneider),Bill Heck (Cliff Bradshaw); also Aaron Krohn, Gayle Rankin,Will Carlyon,Kaleigh Cronin,Caleb Damschroder, Benjamin Eakeley, Andrea Goss, Leeds Hill, Kristin Olness,Kelly Paredes,Jessica Pariseau,Dylan Paul, Jane Pfitsch,Evan Siegel,Stacey Sipowicz.
Set and Club Design: Robert Brill
Musical director/vocal arranger, Patrick Vaccariello; Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting: Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari
Sound: Brian Ronan
Musical Direction: Patrick Vaccariello
Orchestrations: Michael Gibson
Dance and incidental music: David Krane
Original musical coordinator: John Monaco
Hair and wig design: Paul Huntley
Makeup design: Angelina Avallone Dialect coach: Deborah Hecht
Stage manager: Arthur Gaffin
Studio 54254 West 54th Street
From 3/21/14; opening 4/24/14; originially schedulled for January, now closing 3/29/15.
Tuesdays at 8PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 8PM; Thursdays and Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 2pm
Tickets: $47to $162
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 29th press performance
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