Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 21, 2024

Cabaret. Book by Joe Masteroff. Music by John Kander. Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood. Directed by Rebecca Frecknall. Music supervisor and conductor Jennifer Whyte. Choreography by Julia Cheng. Scenic, theater, and costume design by Tom Scutt. Lighting design by Isabella Byrd. Sound design by Nick Lidster for Autograph. Prologue director and Cabaret associate director Jordan Fein. Wig and hair design by Sam Cox. Makeup design by Guy Common. U.S. associate director Danny Sharron. U.S. associate choreographer Ilia Jessica Castro. Fight director Thomas Schall. Prologue composer and music director Angus MacRae. Music coordinator Kristy Norter.
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Gayle Rankin, Bebe Neuwirth, Ato Blankson Wood, Steven Skybell, Henry Gottfried, Natascia Diaz, Gabi Campo, Ayla Ciccone-Burton, Colin Cunliffe, Marty Lauter, Loren Lester, David Merino, Julian Ramos, Mimi Scardulla, Paige Smallwood, Alaöa, Iron Bryan, Brian Russell Carey, Francesca Dawis, Will Ervin Jr., Sun Kim, Deja McNair, Maeve Stier, Michael Winograd, Hannah Florence, Pedro Garza, Christian Kidd, ChloĆ© Nadon-Enriquez, Corinne Munsch, Karl Skyler Urban, Ida Saki, Spencer James Weidie, and Keiji Ishiguri.
Theater: August Wilson Theatre

Eddie Redmayne and Cast
Photo by Marc Brenner
Listen up. Time to put down the knitting, the book, and the broom and hie on over to the imaginatively staged, directed, and performed multiple Olivier Award-winning revival of Kander & Ebb and Joe Masteroff's musical Cabaret (or, as it is now being called, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club) that opened tonight for what everyone involved is betting will be a long and lucrative stay at the August Wilson Theatre, which has been extensively and presumably quite expensively reconfigured for this production.

Start by arriving up to an hour before the scheduled performance in order to enjoy the immersive experience of hanging out with dozens of others, a shot of schnapps or perhaps a class of bubbly in hand, while musicians and dancers wend their way around you as they put you in the mood for a festive night on the town in the Weimar Republic. If you are averse to crowds, you can always go early to your seat, as pre-show performances are also taking place on and about the new in-the-round stage area. And, because money makes the world go around, you can splurge on a light preshow meal at one of the stage-side café tables that will only set you back around $1,000 for a pair of tickets. (There are more affordable options, including the $25 per ticket lottery for those who reside in a less rarefied environment, though, alas, these do not come with the ringside table or food package).

Back in 1998 and again in 2014, it was Alan Cumming as the Emcee who pretty much dominated the show's last big hit Cabaret Broadway revival. His take could be described as a combination of raunchy and brazenly friendly. (Too friendly, for my taste; a visit to Cabaret, which takes place in the shadow of Naziism, should be more sleazy and decidedly disconcerting.)

Now that role is being played in his own eccentric way by a shape-shifting Eddie Redmayne, who picked up one of those Olivier Awards for his performance in London. Redmayne and director Rebecca Frecknall take advantage of the fact that the Emcee has always been a cipher, open to a variety of interpretations. Here he is an amoral chameleon, dressed in a wide array of increasingly outré costumes by Tom Scutt (also responsible for the overall stage and theater design) that remind us of a quote attributed to Stephen King: "Nobody likes a clown at midnight." He and his parade of "beautiful girls" and "beautiful boys," moving to Jennifer Whyte's slithery, at times lascivious choreography, set the mood as the production slides from light burlesque to far darker tones as the evening progresses. And unlike Alan Cumming's Emcee, Redmayne's is savvy enough to ensure he will never end up in a concentration camp.

Steven Skybell and Bebe Neuwirth
Photo by Marc Brenner
Of course, the goings on at the Kit Kat Club serve as a backdrop for the main story, which takes place in the rooming house of Fraulein Schneider (Bebe Neuwirth), a woman who has learned to settle for what she can get. She has, for instance, learned to turn a blind eye to Fraulein Kost's (Natascia Diaz) parade of sailors, however much she may disapprove. More significantly, she has provided room and board at a deep discount to the show's eyes and ears to the outside world, Cliff Bradshaw (Ato Blankson-Wood), a struggling American novelist who is in Berlin to soak up the atmosphere.

In Blankson-Wood's hands, Cliff is a naöve innocent abroad, but he seemingly is the only one who gradually comes to understand when it is time to get out of Dodge. Not so for Fraulein Schneider's beau, the Jewish fruit merchant Herr Schultz (Steven Skybell), who, even when a Kristallnacht-like incident occurs (in a powerful moment of staging), brushes off the rising tide of antisemitism as hooliganism. Neuwirth and Skybell make a heartwarming if heartwrenching pair in this production, and their breakup when it comes is a very sad moment indeed, especially since neither has an inkling of the horrors that lie ahead.

All the performances are spot on, including that of Henry Gottfried as Ernst, who quickly becomes Cliff's best friend in Berlin until he reveals his true colors. And the deceptively simple staging of the production is often thrilling; it's amazing what can be done with a small circular performance space that updates the entire notion of theater-in-the-round thanks to the very smart use of turntables and elevators.

But (drumroll please) saving the best for last, may I present to you, Meine Damen und Herren, Mesdames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen, the production's biggest surprise: Gayle Rankin as the Toast of Mayfair, Fraulein Sally Bowles.

Rankin is no "fremde, etranger, stranger" to Cabaret, having previously played the role of Fraulein Kost in the 2014 Broadway production. Here she gives us a Sally that is one for the books, outlandishly charming when it suits her and desperately broken when she drops the mask. When she belts out her numbers, we watch a lost soul slowly sinking into madness. By the time she gives the equivalent of a nervous breakdown during her performance of the title song, you will be convinced that she is this close to going by way of her girlfriend Elsie, the one who died of "too much pills and liquor," whom Sally has vowed to emulate. Rankin's is an extraordinary performance that raises the production to new heights. And that's saying a lot for what amounts to one hell of a revival of this extraordinary musical that has found new and surprising forms of expression through the years without ever going stale.