In 1998 a revival of one of the greatest American musicals of all times wowed Broadway and played for almost six years racking up 2,300 plus performances. This record is impressive for a revival, especially a revival of such a famous original production that itself saw over 1,100 performances in 1966. Sam Mendes (Oscar winner for American Beauty) and Rob Marshall (Oscar Nominee, Chicago) working with Roundabout Theater company are the creative team behind this much lauded production. I saw this revival in October 1999 and still recall its vivid power. I had the poster of it hanging in my house for over a decade. The opening night cast featured the late great Natasha Richardson as doomed British party girl Sally Bowles and Alan Cumming as the lascivious, solicitous, decadent emcee. Both won Tonys, and both were out of the production before I saw it. However the power of this production was not lost because the stars had been replaced.
This production hasn’t lost any of its impact ten years after it closed. Alan Cumming is back and now Sally Bowles is being played by three time Oscar nominee, American actress, Michelle Williams. Sally Bowles is one of the most iconic characters in the musical theater canon and she is not supposed to be a great singer. She is supposed to be deluded, promiscuous and tragic. At first Williams seems unsure, and her girlish take is a bit too jittery and flippant, but soon you realize that it is part of the deft characterization she is weaving and her performance of the titular song is so powerful you will be soundly moved. She feels every moment of her emotional transformation as she realizes just how bad her recent decisions were; she goes from optimistic to denial to doom in about four minutes. She is totally credible and is a revelation.
The stellar supporting cast is made up of Broadway vets, Linda Edmond and Danny Burstein both Tony nominated for their performances here. However Linda as Frulein Schneider is hardly a supporting character. Here solo “What Would you Do?” is one of the signature songs and her delivery is stellar, as to be expected.
How much you like this revival may depend on how much you like the original material or the stars. Alan Cumming’s iconic and much praised performance is a major draw here. As it should be; he is completely mesmerizing. Stylized and kinetic one moment and spontaneous and loose the next, Cumming who has now raked up 500 performances as the emcee has found his defining role. Sinister, sinuous and playful, his Emcee is Greek Chorus, Narrator, instigator and our conscience as he draws you in and forces your complicity in the increasingly evident diabolical Nazi agenda.
Dark, moving, stunning, and resonant, I cannot recommend this show enough. It is the Cabaret for the ages and a masterpiece. It is an unforgettable theatrical experience.
Tickets and information - runs through January 5th, 2015
Friday, February 12, 2016, Watertown, NY