Cabaret has always been a groundbreaking musical, dating back to Harold Prince’s original production in 1966. When Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s production opened at Studio 54 in 1998, it built upon what Prince started and pushed the limits even further, creating a much raunchier, seedier, darker, and more dangerous trip to the cabaret. Mendes and Marshall have once again brought their Cabaret back to Studio 54, and it remains a brilliant production of a great musical, one that manages to be hugely entertaining, funny, charming, and moving, while at the same time threatening in its depiction of the growing storm created by the rise of the Nazis in Berlin in 1930. Dominated once again by the exceptional performance of Alan Cumming as the Emcee, Cabaret is a welcomed addition to any Broadway season, and it was great to have the chance to revisit this bold production.
Cumming has lost none of his mischievous edge on stage. His Sally Bowles in this production is played by the distinguished actress Michelle Williams, who is a three-time Oscar nominee and is making her Broadway debut. Williams shows her acting chops with a well crafted, skillful, valid approach to the role. Her Sally is stylized, self-absorbed, manipulative, a bit strident, and always plotting. She isn’t the fun loving, “life is a Cabaret,” Sally we might have grown to expect – that element of Sally’s character is more of a façade in Williams’ performance. Her interpretation takes some getting used to, but it is effective, and her singing of the famous John Kander and Fred Ebb title song is terrific and thrilling.
Excellent support also comes from Linda Emond and Danny Burstein, who are both outstanding as the aging characters whose relationship provides genuine heart and warmth to the show. Emond’s final scene, including her singing of “What Would You Do,” is enormously moving, and Burstein is totally charming. Bill Heck is fine as Cliff, and the rest of the cast is first rate. It is always great to hear the marvelous Kander and Ebb score; Joe Masteroff’s excellent book can not be ignored and contributes greatly to Cabaret’s power.
For all of Cabaret’s great entertainment value and crowd pleasing musical numbers, it is its darkness and threatening atmosphere that ultimately stays with its audience. There are some chilling moments, including the “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” sequences in Act One and the particularly unsettling and shocking closing moments. Cabaret is that rare musical production deserving of being labeled as brilliant. - James Miller
Studio 54 is located at 254 West 54th in Manhattan.
Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.