What good is sitting, alone in your room?
Come, hear the music play!
Life is a cabaret, old chum! Come to the cabaret!
“Welcome to the Kit Kat Klub.”
With those words, the maitre-d invites you to come into the cabaret and shows you your seat. It’s 1929 and you’re in Berlin. The Nazis and Hitler are ramping up, rising, and enveloping the masses. The Klub is set up with tables and chairs. All the traditional orchestra and front mezzanine seating has been removed to accompany you into the Kit Kat Klub’s unique atmosphere.
Perhaps you have seen the award-winning Broadway version of Cabaret that first opened 48 years ago. Or maybe you caught the classic Cabaret movie that lost the 1972 Best Picture Oscar to The Godfather. Or possibly you saw the Roundabout Theatre production of Cabaret that opened back in 1998. Whether you’ve taken in Cabaret before, or are ready to catch it for the first time before it closes its Roundabout revived limited run on August 31st, get ready, get set and definitely go. One of the most remarkable shows ever to light up the great white way is back. And it’s a stunning treat.
One theatrical difference: unlike any other show where ushers place a Playbill into your hand as you enter, here there’s a strict no program policy (“the producers made a professional performance decision,” said one host, noting, “don’t worry, you’ll get your program on the way out”). It makes sense since what you’re about to be part of, is set up as a non-theatre like experience as soon as you enter the Klub.
Your performance tickets say 8PM (matinee ducats say 2PM) but the doors uncharacteristically swing open one hour earlier. Try to arrive as early as you can so you can experience the impact of the pre-performance excitement. The Cabaret dancers are preparing for their performance by stretching and interacting with themselves along with the early arriving Klub-goers. The mobile orchestra members are tuning up and exploring the Klub as well chatting with the newly arrived guests.
A few minutes after the top of the hour opening, the highly enthusiastic crowd goes wild in what almost sounded like a pre-recorded roar of approval as the emcee appears. The nightclub walls and ceiling rafters seem to vibrate and create an earful of shattering power that won’t break until you and the other Klub-goers leave their standing-room ovation spots to head back out to the reality of 54th Street.
As he did when he created and won a Tony Award for his Roundabout role back in 1998, Alan Cumming reprises and receives his well-deserved Master of Ceremony accolades from that first minute. He playfully and masterfully twinkles and toys with the Klub guests, even extending his powerful character’s interpretation beyond the wonderful original emcee Joel Grey. Michelle Williams makes her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles. It has been easy for critics to compare her to such Cabaret performers as Liza Minnelli but Ms. Williams does work well with the American writer character Clifford Bradshaw (Bill Heck) in their truly inspirational roles of togetherness.
The entire cast definitely deserves all the thunderous applause they receive throughout the show. But aside from the infectious spirit of Alan Cumming, it’s an emotional Danny Burstein as the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz and his love interest Linda Emond as Fraulein Schneider who also both rise to the top and stand out for the sad stories they share as they maneuver through this most difficult German historic period. A pre-Kristallnacht event, homosexuality and yellow Jewish Stars of David, are all visualizations that emotionally push you along on this non-stop reality ride.
Over three hours after first arriving at The Roundabout Theatre’s Kit Kat Klub at Studio 54 you head out clutching your newly received Playbill program. Walking east up the block you catch the famed Ed Sullivan Theatre, home to the soon to be retiring CBS Late Show with David Letterman. But nothing of the reality around you can take your attention away as you think about that remarkable Klub you just left and perhaps sing one of the lyrically dynamic songs from that show (right this way your table’s waiting…). To borrow a phrase from Fiddler on the Roof, this Roundabout Cabaret performance is truly a ‘wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles.’
Oh, if you do also see a 50th anniversary performance of Fiddler this year, along with this 48th Anniversary Cabaret revival, consider yourself to have hit the true generational double jackpot of Broadway perfection. Willkommen back indeed.