Sunday, April 27, 2014

Theater Review: Cabaret

Cabaret is back in town. And the Roundabout Theatre Company's production is decidedly worth your attention. The first time I saw this musical was at the Broadhurst in 1966. But the production was seriously damaged by the inadequate performance of Jill Haworth as Sally Bowles. And so, in spite of fine performances by Jack Gilford, Bert Convy and Lotte Lenya, the casting of Sally was cause for concern. That egregious error, I believe, kept us from fully appreciating the brilliance of the production. But the situation changed in 1968 when I saw the sublime Judi Dench perform the role of Sally in London.

I'm old enough to have seen the late, great Julie Harris in I Am a Camera, the play by John Van Druten that was inspired by the short stories of Christopher Isherwood. That play, of course, celebrated the birth of a character, Sally Bowles. And now we have Sally again; and this time she is portrayed by Michelle Williams.The Roundabout Theatre Company's Studio 54 has been converted into the Kit Kat Club, complete with tables and chairs so that members of the the audience can pretend that they are actually patrons of the club in the play. Michelle Williams is a lovely Sally Bowles. And, too, she effectively captures the character's vulnerability.

The major performances are commendable. In addition to Michelle Williams, Linda Emond is a fine Fraulein Schneider; Bill Heck is excellent as the sexually ambiguous Clifford Bradshaw. Danny Burstein is just right as Herr Schultz, a man who must hide his true identity. And the supporting roles are all very ably handled here.

Everything in this production (setting, characterizations, choreography) appears to capture the Berlin of 1930. And we get the feeling that the doors in Fraulein Schneider's house will lead us to something dangerous and dreary, even deadly. The Berlin of 1939 was insecure and squalid. Robert Brill's settings, containing minimal furniture, also reflect the menace. And the one character who best personifies the ugliness and dangers of the time, of course, is the Emcee; and, once again, he is brilliantly portrayed by Alan Cumming. Reserve a table at Studio 54. Attention must be paid.