Cabaret On Broadway, as Good as Ever

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“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come, hear the music play. Life is a cabaret, old chum, come to the cabaret!”

An iconic invitation, how can you resist? Even with MY froggy vocals doing the inviting!

Over the years, I have heeded this call. This is my 3rd visit to a revival of “Cabaret” and I can assure you that like good wine, it improves with age. This is a vintage year.

“Cabaret” revolves around the residents of  Berlin during the heyday of Weimar Germany – after WWI, during the decade leading to WWII – a dizzying era, shocking even by today’s standards. Berliners lived like they would never see tomorrow; as if everyday were their last. Hedonism became a religion and personal pleasure the ultimate goal while the overt rumblings of an imminent war underscored (and ultimately dominated) not only the stages of dim nightclubs, but darkened the world stage.  Berlin’s vibrant, grimy, and divinely low cabaret scene was an experience that history will never repeat. Be prepared for some chilling scenes as hedonism gives way to Nazism and the theaters of war.

“Cabaret” as we now know it has morphed, evolved and been adapted in every genre.   Initially it was a novel, then a collection of Christopher Isherwood semi autobiographical stories titled “GoodBye to Berlin.”  These formed the basis for a successful Broadway drama titled “I am a Camera” by John Van Druten which was subsequently made into a 1955 film with the same title starring the late, great Julie Harris.  In 1969, it morphed into a truly original idea – the “concept” musical.  A slim narrative was present but this daring show was presented as a series of vignettes with more appropriately seedy, marginal characters added to the fray of expats living out their edgy, sometimes sordid lives in 1930s Berlin. But I must add that without Kurt Weill’s seminal musical titled “Three Penny Opera,” we would never have experienced “Cabaret.”  Indeed Kurt Weill’s widow, Lotte Lenya, played Fraulein Schneider in the original 1969 Broadway musical now simply titled “Cabaret.”

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However new heights and cult status were achieved when a whirlwind of a superb musical score was expanded for the brilliant film version of “Cabaret” directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. He made the magnificent Liza Minelli as leading “lady” (I use this term loosely!) Sally Bowles a part of our vernacular – not to mention collecting an array of Oscars. This movie adaptation was so infectious, subsequent musical stage revivals had to alter the initial Kander and Ebb score to include songs from the movie musical, as well as enhance the role of the “Emcee” made so infamously delicious by Joel Grey in the film.  The 1988 Broadway revival brought back Joey Grey as the “Master of Ceremonies” in a now leading role.  Then the 1998 revival with the marvelous – and achingly missed Natasha Richardson – discovered and subsequently established Alan Cumming as a major force to contend with on stage, in film and on tv (not to mention one heck of a sense of humor on talk shows) while opening the door for some really talented actresses- from Brook Shields to Jennifer Jason Leigh- to relish the  part of the American expat, Sally Bowles,  in this five year run.

So history lesson over now and………. WILKOMMEN!

Don’t miss this fabulous show, with again, the AMAZING Alan Cummings in a landmark performance  as the” Emcee” of the krazy “Kit Kat Klub”  and Michelle Williams as the even kookier, wistful “Sally Bowles” leading this revival. But less you think it ends there, old chum, you will be overjoyed with an incredibly strong supporting cast of performers – the dynamic dancers alone are on a level of their own –   with Linda Emond as Fraulein Schneider and Danny Burstein (has he ever found his groove, one great part after the next) as Herr Schultz.  Such pathos to their respective performances.

The actual performance stage is tiny as the venue (the infamous Studio 54) has been totally reworked to create an authentic cabaret club.

It is practically an interactive show as in a theater set like this, familiarity is inevitable! The orchestra seating consists of small bistro tables seating four and dotted with a tiny red lamp. You can order a drink at the table prior to the show, all adding to the cabaret atmosphere.

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But these particular “Cabaret” cast members are in truth hardly the seedy, divinely decadent, poverty stricken nightclub performers they portray ….they are some of the best talent you will catch on Broadway this season…Alan Cumming alone has set the bar so high that even the acrobats from Pippin can’t get there! A must see show. “Cabaret” is at Studio 54 until January 2015 and I heard tell just the other day that Michelle Williams may extend her stay past August 31st, 2014.  But check to be sure.

Contributed by: Joanne Theodorou

 

 

 

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