Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s iconic staging of the Kander and Ebb classic returns in top form.
The Roundabout Theatre Company’s 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret proved the 1966 musical’s malleability, trading the stylized glitz of Joel Grey’s Emcee for the bruised, grubby vulgarity of Alan Cumming’s Tony-winning turn. Roundabout remounted its production in 2014, with Cumming again presiding over the Kit Kat Klub; that version is now on the road again, and if you haven’t seen this definitive staging of one of the great American musicals, you shouldn’t miss it.
Joe Masteroff, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s portrait of decadent Weimar Berlin in the lead-up to the Nazis’ rise is equal parts thrilling and chilling, as seen through the eyes of American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Lee Aaron Rosen), a new arrival seeking inspiration in the city’s hedonism. “It's so tawdry and terrible and everyone's having such a great time,” he enthuses to Sally Bowles (Andrea Goss), the English nightclub singer who talks her way into his bed in spite of his sexual ambiguity.
Goss, who understudied the recent Broadway revival, plays her role powerfully, making Sally a magnetically self-destructive force. Mark Nelson and Chicago’s own Shannon Cochran are suitably charming and heartbreaking, if too young for their characters, as boarding house proprietress Fräulein Schneider and her kindly Jewish wooer, Herr Schultz.
But in this interpretation, the show belongs to the Emcee. Randy Harrison, best known for the Showtime series Queer as Folk, fills Cumming’s combat boots quite impressively, looming impishly or menacingly over the proceedings when he’s not seductively Willkommen-ing us to leave our troubles outside. But the haunting lesson of Cabaret is that forgetting your troubles doesn’t stop them from growing.
The PrivateBank Theatre. Book by Joe Masteroff. Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb. Directed by BT McNicholl based on original direction by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall. With Randy Harrison, Andrea Goss, Lee Aaron Rosen, Shannon Cochran, Mark Nelson. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.