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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Studio 54


  Alan Cumming/ Ph: Joan Marcus

“Come to the cabaret?” Well, old chum, don’t take this the wrong way but weren’t we just at the cabaret? Doesn’t it seem like only yesterday that we put down the knitting, the book and the broom and went to hear the music play? Nein?
Okay, so it’s actually been a decade since the bleak black boîte was shuttered after a six-year run. But the Kit Kat Club is open for business once again, with the same louche MC (the inimitable Alan Cumming) acting as observer, Brechtian commentator and lord of misrule, though S&MC might be more to the point. He’s a little older, a little wizened but still offering up all sorts of unearthly delights.
So, with a few reservations, let me say, come to a revival of a revival of a revival (the hit 1998 Broadway production was based on a 1993 version staged at London’s Donmar Warehouse). Come to the cabaret. Studio 54 has been kitted out with small tables and red-shaded lamps to give theatergoers the sense of being patrons of the Kit Kat Club.
Cabaret, as conceived and fluidly staged by co-directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall is considerably seamier and raunchier (see “Two Ladies”) certainly more insinuating and sinister than the original 1966 version directed by Harold Prince. Let’s just sum it up this way: Joel Grey, the master of ceremonies in that first go-round, had rouged cheeks; Cumming has rouged nipples to say nothing of a swastika on his tush.
Inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and a stage adaptation of them, I Am a Camera by John Van Druten, Cabaret operates on several tracks. It chronicles life in a netherworld of a Berlin night spot, a club that becomes a metaphor for the rise of Nazism, and tells two love stories, that of Cliff Bradshaw (Bill Heck in a thankless role), a bisexual would-be novelist, and party girl Sally Bowles (Michelle Williams), and of Fraulein Schneider, a boarding house landlady and determine survivor (Linda Emond, wonderful) and Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (Danny Burstein, equally wonderful). For different reasons, both romances are doomed.
Storyline has never been Cabaret’s selling point; it’s John Kander and Fred Ebb’s evocative score. Mendes and Marshall have added to the bounty with two songs, “Mein Herr” and “Maybe This Time,”that were in the film adaptation of the show.

I won’t argue with those interpolations. Let me save my quarrel for the directors’ rock ‘em, shock ‘em approach. The Kit Kat Club starts off as such a den of degradation and depravity (and not the kind that looks particularly fun) that it doesn’t really seem so different when, as the show progresses, the nightspot is meant to become synonymous with the ugliness that is the Nazi regime. And as interpreted by the waifish Williams, congenital good time girl Sally Bowles doesn’t seem to be having such a good time. But never mind. You will.


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