Metro Weekly

Cabaret at Kennedy Center offers a searing, sexualized production

The current tour of the iconic musical has kink to spare and reinstates a vital narrative cut from the movie

Mary Gordon Murray as Fräulein Schneider and Scott Robertson as Herr Schultz, Photo: Joan Marcus

Jon Peterson has some choice words for those who don’t return after intermission to the searing, sexualized touring production of Kander and Ebb’s classic Cabaret.

“I’d say to them, ‘Grow the fuck up,'” laughs the 55-year-old British actor who brings the show’s iconic emcee to vivid, lascivious life. “‘Don’t you think it’s time to be a little bit more honest with yourself? Sex exists. People do it. You do it. So come on, get real.'”

This is not your standard-issue Cabaret — not by a long shot. Based on the 1998 Broadway revival, directed by Sam Mendes and co-directed Rob Marshall, the narrative cleaves closer to that of the 1966 original Broadway production, rather than Bob Fosse’s overly-familiar 1972 film. The ill-fated romance between Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit merchant, and his landlady, Fräulein Schneider, has been fully restored, bringing added moral depth and political resonance to the underlying story of the downfall of the Wiemar Republic in 1930s Germany.

“They sing four songs,” says Mary Gordon Murray, who as Schneider, hits it out of the park nightly with the intensely charged showstopper, “What Would You Do?” “And all those songs are cut in the movie…. It’s really kind of a revelation for people that there’s this whole other storyline that’s such a big part of the evening.”

“It’s such a beautiful, tragic story within the story,” adds Peterson. “It’s just perfectly set up. Cabaret is like a little Russian doll, isn’t it? There’s a doll within a doll within a doll. It’s just gorgeous.”

Murray isn’t put off by the production’s overtly erotic tones, though her choice of words are gentler than her co-star’s.

“I certainly don’t want people to walk out,” she says. “That’s not the point of doing theater. On the other hand, I’m not dismayed that something like this is risky enough, and political enough, and has a strong enough opinion, that maybe some people aren’t gonna go for it. That’s pretty ballsy for a musical to do. I don’t think it should be something gratuitous — you certainly don’t want to alienate people. That’s not the point, but on the other hand, this is a strong cup of tea. Perhaps some people won’t care for it. Well, so be it.”

Cabaret runs to August 6, at Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theatre, Tickets are $59 to $149. Call 202-467-4600, or visit kennedy-center.org.

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Randy Shulman is Metro Weekly's Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He can be reached at rshulman@metroweekly.com.