When you enter Studio 54, home of the current Broadway revival of Cabaret, the tone is immediately set. Waiters dressed in only pants with suspenders sell concessions, giant disco balls hang from the ceiling, cabaret-style table seating fills the orchestra, and Kit Kat Girls stretch onstage. The atmosphere is already perfect, and then Alan Cumming takes the stage to sing “Wilkommen” and, just as the Emcee sings, life is beautiful.
In the decade or so I’ve been in love with theater, I have seen a few performances that I have known immediately will stick with me always. Patti LuPone in the 2008 revival of Gypsy and Bernadette Peters in the 2010 revival cast of A Little Night Music are two examples that come to mind- iconic performances I feel privileged to have seen. Cumming, in the role he won a Tony for in the 1998 revival, gave another such performance. He was in fact deemed ineligible to be nominated for a 2014 Tony because of a rarely applicable clause forbidding a performer from being nominated twice for the same role. One of the marks of a great performer is that you are drawn to them even when they are not the star of the scene. Even when Cumming was skulking amongst the orchestra, observing the scenes unfolding below, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. This production is HIS cabaret, and we are all just visitors. I paid more for my ticket to Cabaret than I did for any of the other shows I saw this trip, and Cumming’s “Wilkommen” alone was more than worth the price of admission.
Ironically, the moment I appreciated Cumming’s brilliance the most was when his costar Emma Stone took the stage for “Don’t Tell Mama”, her first song as Sally Bowles. I appreciated him because had he not been so fantastic, I would have been very let down because I did not enjoy Stone’s performance. She feels very miscast in the role. I did not get to see her predecessor Michelle Williams, but I have heard that Williams’s Sally was very vulnerable. Stone’s is the antithesis of that. Her Sally puts up a strong, tough, nothing-bothers-me-and-I-don’t-care front and works very hard to seem utterly unaffected by everything that comes her way. I understand what she was trying to do with the character- the great thing about Sally Bowles is that the actress playing her can choose to take the role in a number of different directions, but something about Stone’s choices fell flat for me. She is also not a particularly strong singer, and while Sally is a very acting-heavy role, it is also singing-heavy, and I found myself growing nervous every time Stone started a number, fearful (and rightfully so) that she wouldn’t be able to hit the notes. Sitting in the mezzanine, the thinness of her voice, especially in comparison to Cumming and the rest of the cast, was very evident, and she seemed to be having trouble projecting. I think it was a mistake to try to maintain such a thick character accent even while singing because it weakened her already questionable vocal abilities even more. The eleven o’clock titular number was ultimately a disappointment, although I did enjoy some of her acting moments during the emotional climax in act two.
Luckily, my dislike of Stone’s performance did not prevent me from enjoying the show because literally everything else was stellar. In addition to Cumming, the rest of the supporting cast, including Bill Heck as Cliff, Linda Edmond as Fraulein Schneider, and Danny Burstein as Herr Schultz, was also fantastic. The set was perfect, Studio 54 remains, as I assume it also was in 1998, the ideal home for this show, and the orchestra was definitely the sexiest I’ve ever seen on Broadway (I mean, the lyrics do mandate that they must be beautiful). Even though this is the third Broadway revival since the original production in 1966, the show has not lost any of its magic.
Every time I see a production of Cabaret, I’m reminded that the show is much more than glitz and glitter and show-stopping numbers- the story delivers a real emotional wallop at more than one point, and the final image in particular is a real gut punch.
This production of Cabaret will play Broadway’s Studio 54 through March 29th. It was recently announced that Sienna Miller will take over as Sally beginning February 17th. For tickets and more info, visit http://www.cabaretmusical.com/.