Cabaret Plays On, at Studio 54
The Journal News
by Jacques le Sourd
October 28, 1999
Cabaret has gone beyond being a revival. It's a phenomenon. Nineteen
months into its life on Broadway, it is the closest thing to a perfect musical
experience that you can get right now.
Every major cast member has been replaced with somebody better than the original.
Now the roles are not just well acted, they are superbly sung, too. The show
is in a large new venue - Studio 54, the former 1970s discotheque - which
has been fitted with small cabaret tables with a sea of tiny red lampshades
that stretch right up into the balcony.
The show has the dubious honor of having the highest top ticket price on
Broadway - a heart-stopping $90 - but it gives the best value for the dollar.
In other words, it's worth it. This production certainly has had some ups
and downs, but it is amazingly well turned out at the moment.
Cabaret is the gritty rethinking of the 1966 John Kander and Fred
Ebb show, based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. The time
is the final seconds of the Weimar Republic, before the Nazis sweep everything
away. It was a good film directed by Bob Fosse in 1972. The director of the
theaterversion is Sam Mendes, who recently made his film debut with the incendiary
The first face the audience sees at Studio 54 is that of the emcee, a part
created so memorably by Joel Grey and valuably reinterpreted by Alan Cumming.
The new emcee creates a completely different impression: Michael Hall (Corpus
Christi) is making his Broadway debut here, and he is a genuine hunk.
The bright-red lipstick and scant contraption of suspenders designed by William
Ivey Long only underscores the character's physicality. Where Cumming gave
off unwholesomeness, Hall radiates sex, but also a deep sadness. It's a haunting
portrayal, and ultimately a more troubling one.
Michael Hayden now plays Clifford Bradshaw, the American novelist who is
the narrator of the piece. The star of Carousel and Far East
brings his sizzlingly intense persona to the role. He is also is the first
actor who really acts the part: You literally watch the toll that the Berlin
life takes on him from the first scene onwards. He also establishes a force
field of erotic attraction to Sally Bowles, while allowing himself some bisexual
interest in the chorus boy Bobby (Michael O'Donnell). This Clifford almost
loses himself in the Berlin maelstrom, and it's a scary and thrilling ride:
Hayden creates another indelible impression of a character.
The show finally has a Sally Bowles who can both act and really sing: Susan
Egan. The singer from Beauty and the Beast surprisingly finds a new
dimension of real strength and presence here; she's heading straight for
disaster, of course, but she doesn't care. She's more believable and more
likeable than Natasha Richardson, and when she belts out the show's two great
torch songs - "Maybe This Time" (actually written for the movie) and the
heavily ironic "Cabaret" - they move you as they did not before. Unlike
her predecessors, she makes Liza Minnelli a distant (and irrelevant) memory.
But that ain't all.
Carole Shelley is magical as the new Fraulein Schneider, the landlady who
sings "So What" and "What Would You Do?" She is watching her world crumble
too, of course, but we have the feeling she will survive by pure grit. That
means, sadly, giving up the love of the Jewish fruit merchant who courts
her with pineapples, Herr Schultz, whose days are seriously numbered.
This part right now is movingly played by Laurence Luckinbill of Katonah,
but on Nov. 9 Dick Latessa takes over. Also, Martin Moran steps into the
part of Ernst Ludwig, the snaky low-level Nazi agent whose identity is only
revealed near the end of Act 1, in a chilling moment. Michael Stuhlbarg,
the current Ernst Ludwig, does not quite erase the remarkable memory of Denis
O'Hare in the role, but he is quite fine.
Victoria Clark (Titanic) similarly has big shoes to fill replacing
Michelle Pawk as Fraulein Kost, the rooming-house prostitute, but she fills
them spectacularly well. Several members of the remarkably ambidextrous chorus
remain, to dance, sing and play the orchestral instruments in a striking
(and working) George Grosz tableau. Rob Marshall co-directed and choreographed
the piece. Robert Brill designed the set and the club, which looks both snug
and spiffy with its many tables. The excellent lighting design is by Peggy
Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari.
This is a dark and chilling musical that may surprise those looking for an
upbeat night on the town. But its rewards are ultimately richer. What is
intact is the frisson of a world about to explode, with no looking back.