Sacrelige! My “book of the weeks” is not a book.
I couldn’t resist myself this week. I have been singing Cabaret showtunes ever since I saw Roundabout Theatre’s National Tour last weekend. Everything from ‘Willkommen,’ to ‘Mein Herr,’ to ‘Don’t Tell Mama’…I even re-wrote the lyrics to ‘Two Ladies’ so I could sing it around my kiddos. Now Anabelle joins in…”Deedlideelidee two babies! Deedlideelidee two babies! Deedlideelidee and I’m the only mom here!” Is that perverse? Re-constructing a song about a menage a trois to sing with my toddlers?
I don’t care! I love Cabaret. Not just any productions of Cabaret: It is THIS production of Cabaret that makes my dark little soul sing. Originally directed by Sam Mendes, the most recent Broadway revival of Cabaret, which is now touring the United states, perfectly captures the darkness, the decadence, the desperation, the sexiness of pre-WWII Berlin-and humanity. If there’s a stop near you left on the tour, you must see it. See it even if you don’t like the movie, which I will admit, I don’t much like myself. Keep reading to find out why this production is an absolute must-see that beats all the rest.
I first fell in love with Cabaret because of the Master of Ceremonies. If you’ve seen the movie starring Liza Minelli, this is the character played by Joel Grey, but Emcee (as he’s also called) is far more lascivious in this production. He haunts the stage throughout the production, taking on small, adjunct roles in scenes outside of the Kit Kat club where he performs. White faced, bare chested, red lipped, and always lanky, with his crotch framed on display, this incarnation of the character was originated by Alan Cumming, and has attracted the likes of stars like Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Pascal, John Stamos, Raul Esparaza (who I saw in New York), and Micheal C. Hall.
Dexter on Broadway
The Master of Ceremonies herds the show forward. He keeps the audience laughing. He keeps the audience entranced. Though there’s nothing real-life sexy about the pallid, strung-out looking psuedo-demonic figure of the Emcee, who the friend who accompanied me described as “the guy who looks like The Joker,” everyone, while in that theatre, would fuck him. At least I would.
I have always had a secret desire to play the Master of Ceremonies. One which will never come true, because, despite my lifelong love for musical theatre, I have absolutely no singing abilities. Ah, well. You learn how to settle for what you get. Who cares, so what? (yes, that’s another song from the show) I will always love this character, and I have no complaints about Jon Peterson’s performance on this tour. There is always a little energy lost when you’re sitting way up in the third mezzanine, and there were some sound problems back there that made his lines in particular a little difficult to distinguish, but that’s a technical issue. A poverty issue. Not an actor issue.
Still, the actor who drove the show this time was Leigh Ann Larkin. The first time I saw her was as Dainty June in Gypsy on Broadway. She was good..I remember her even all these years later..but June isn’t the character who drives Gypsy. Gypsy is. Sally Bowles gives Larkin the chance to truly shine.
And shine she does. I have seen Sam Mendes’ Cabaret three times. Twice at Studio 54 and once last weekend at The Paramount theatre while on national tour in Seattle. I didn’t see any of the famous Sallys, which have included Emma Stone, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Molly Ringwald (I wish I had seen Molly Ringwald), but I have no complaints about either of the ladies I saw in New York. They were both fabulous and I walked out of that theatre as in love with Sally Bowles as any good musical theatre lover.
But Leigh Ann Larkin was the best. I was surprised! I don’t expect to walk into a touring show and consider any part of it better than the New York version, but Larkin brings the character to a new level of hilarity. She absolutely embodies Sally Bowles, who is the original manic pixie girl, except working as a burlesque dancer in a seedy, cocaine riddled club that she slept her way into. I remember one part, when she where learns Cliff (her eventual love interest) is living, shortly after she’s been booted from her spot in the Kit Kat club. The line is “Oh, I’d love to live there,” and Larkin swung her leg open over her chair..maybe you just had to be there but believe me: she’s a riot.
If you want to relate the show to mental illness, besides theatre being a fabulous form of healthy escapism, Sally Bowles is your gal. She definitely has something going on. Boderline maybe, or some form of mania. She is frenzied and over-sexed; her sexuality is both her power and her downfall which she uses to manipulate others and hurt herself. She is indecisive, fleeting, and outrageously gleeful, though when we see her sentimental aside in the song ‘Maybe This Time,’ and her breakdown when she returns to the stage of the Kit Kat club with ‘Life Is A Cabaret,’ we are allowed insight into the profound sadness which drives her. I have always related to Sally, though this time I began seeing myself more as the jaded and depressingly practical Fraulein Schneider.
In this production specifically we also see the effects of addiction. Whether to drugs, sex, certainty, money, or excitement, each character in the show is driven by obsession and resistance to change. I don’t remember seeing the Master of Ceremonies scratching and stumbling through a clear opiate high in past productions-though it’s possibly I simply didn’t notice it then-but I definitely caught him strung out in this one.
Although Cabaret has its share of catchy showtunes, the production is underlined by the Holocaust. Nazi Germany is rising into power as the characters drink and dance and fuck themselves into oblivion. This production, marked by dingy costuming and sets, in which all of the dancers appear at once inviting and diseased, keeps the self-denial at the forefront. As much as everyone is trying, as much fun as everyone-including the audience-is having, we are not allowed to forget that we are watching ghosts. These beautiful people are doomed by history.
And of course, it’s the Master of Ceremonies who keeps reminding us of what is to come. He plays Jew, sympathizer, and Gestapo with very little change in demeanor. A black coat and a hat, a different robe maybe, but we always know who he is and that he is still our host. When the show begins, he tells us to leave our troubles at the door. “We have no troubles here,” but by the end, we are forced to remember that your troubles will always find you.
I know, this is supposed to be a book review segment and I’m here gushing about a Broadway musical tour that is almost through its run. Well, don’t worry. Did you know that Cliff, the central character from whom Sally Bowles and the Master of Ceremonies steal the show, is an author trying to write his second book? And actually, Cabaret really happened. Sort of. There was a real ‘Cliff,’ a gay man who laughed at the affair concocted between Sally Bowles and himself onstage. To be fair to the production, however, this revival casts Cliff as bisexual, at least paying some kind of homage to the real writer’s sexuality, which early Broadway productions didn’t.
Anyway, he wrote a book, and then someone else wrote a play based on his book, and then Cabaret the musical was born!
Here is the original story, and yes this is an affiliate link, by Christopher Isherwood, our “Cliff:”
I’ll include some more related links at the bottom of the page. For now, here are the remaining tour dates. I wish I had an affliate’s program with TicketMaster, but I don’t..so I’m just sharing these with you out of the kindness of my heart..because everyone should see Sam Mendes’ Cabaret at least once. Even if you’ve seen the play before..even if you didn’t like..see this one. It’s the same music, but it is so much seedier, so much more darkly spectacular…so much more disgusting and sexy than any other incarnation of the show. If I never get to see it again, I’m grateful I got into these three showings…but my god, I hope I see it again someday.
Unfortunately, however, if you’re living outside of Washington DC, you are, apparently, out of luck. You’ll just have to join me in a communal prayer to revive this production in Studio 54 again.
If you’re in DC and you go see it, let me know what you think! Or if you’ve seen this production of Cabaret in the past, how did you like it?
Do you have a different show or musical that you love as much as I love Sam Mendes’ Cabaret? Let me know in the comments!
And please do share this post! I have had to do less self promoting in order to try to build up a freelance business. It would really mean the world to me if you could take thirty seconds out of your day to click a share button or two.
Til next time
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