Berlin: 1929 New Year’s Eve in the Weimar Republic.
The louche Kit-Kat Club is open for business. The vulgar and debauched emcee invites people to leave their troubles behind, inside, he says, “life is beautiful,” with self-indulgence high on the menu. But outside, desperation builds, as the Nazi party begins goose-stepping its way to power, persecution and genocide.
“Willkommen” to “Cabaret,” is a Tony-winning musical created by John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and Joe Masteroff (book). Every decade or so, Broadway presents a revival of Kander and Ebb’s smash-hit musical, “Cabaret.”
And for good reason: It’s daring, political, gutsy, gritty, naughty, raw, risqué, and powerful. And it couldn’t be more relevant in terms of what is currently happening in America.
“Cabaret” follows the doomed relationship between wannabe, bisexual, American novelist Cliff Bradshaw and a third-rate nightclub singer named Sally Bowles, who left England for the decadent world of Berlin. A subplot involves another doomed couple, a heartwrenching romance between German boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider and her aging suiter, Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. Add to that, a sassy prostitute named Fraulein Kost with a fondness for sailors, and a deceptive German, Herr Ludwig, ultimately revealed as a Nazi. All set against a nation of patriotic Germans who were duped by Hitler and his Third Reich.
All this goes on outside the Kit Kat Club, but inside, the emcee is a tour de force role in the show. Joel Grey originated the part on stage and in the film. Then in 1998, along came Alan Cumming, who put sparkles on his nipples, suspenders on his crotch and took decadent pansexuality to a higher, or should we say lower level–he won a Tony for his efforts. Another Tony that year went to the late Natasha Richardson, who reinvented lost-soul Sally with genuine desperation and despair. And of course, the Kit Kat girls got raunchier and raunchier.
The musical premiered 50 years ago. It swept the 1967 Tony Awards and has since enjoyed several revivals, including critically acclaimed Roundabout Theatre Company’s current national tour, which runs June 13th-25th at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. The production is based on Roundabout’s 1998 Broadway revival and features original Broadway direction by Sam Mendes and original co-direction & choreography by Rob Marshall.
Director Harold Prince originally defined the show as radical in 1966. Then, Bob Fosse made significant changes for his 1972 film adaptation. Although the film won eight Academy Awards and made Liza Minnelli a star, Kander, Ebb and Masteroff felt it wasn’t true to what they wrote. In the 1998 revival, Mendes and Marshall infused their stage version with some of Fosse’s in-your-face sexuality, but their take is far more flagrant and raw.
“Cabaret” has continued to evolve over the years. Songs have been cut, rearranged and new songs added. “Maybe This Time,” was originally in another Kander and Ebb musical. The score ranges from playful to ominous—the clever “Willkommen,” the naughty “Don’t Tell Mama” and the chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” An audience favorite is the tender duet, “It Couldn’t Please Me More (often called “The Pineapple Song”) sung by Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz.
Jon Peterson, a veteran of Roundabout’s “Cabaret” on Broadway and well known for his various roles on London’s West End, stars as the Emcee, while Leigh Ann Larkin, known on Broadway for her roles as Dainty June “Gypsy” and “A Little Night Music,” is making her “Cabaret” debut as Sally Bowles.
Joining them are Benjamin Eakeley as Clifford Bradshaw, Alison Ewing as Fräulein Kost, Mary Gordon Murray as Fräulein Schneider, Ned Noyes and Patrick Vaill alternate as Ernst Ludwig, and Scott Robertson as Herr Schultz. Conductor Robert Cookman directs the Kit Kat Klub’s beautiful boys and girls who double as the band.
Composer John Kander believes “Cabaret” is just as meaningful in 2017 as it was originally. He deplores the hatred going on inside today’s society. “Unfortunately, it’s just as awful was in the 30s,” he says. “. . . there are really bad people out there ready to destroy the world, and if you don’t recognize that fact and do something to stand up against it, you’re doomed.”
“Cabaret” opens tonight and runs through June 25, 2017 at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. This production is a hot ticket in town so get your seats fast. Get tickets here.
You might also be interested in some of the amazing shows coming to the Paramount in the 2017/18 season: