Metro Weekly

‘Cabaret’ Is As Eerily Prescient And Important As Ever

Eddie Redmayne and Gayle Rankin shimmer in a richly immersive Broadway revival of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece, "Cabaret."

Cabaret – Eddie Redmayne – Photo: Marc Brenner

Taste the wine, hear the band, and start celebrating. Cabaret is back on Broadway with unbridled decadence and immersive glory. Certain musicals are constructed so well that, even if they are cast with mediocre performances or if the production value is low, they still hold.

Cabaret stands as one of the indestructible.

This might explain why the original sixties production has been revived and reinvented so many times on both sides of the Atlantic. Those lucky enough to see it will likely recall Sam Mendes’ stunning revival, first premiering at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 1993 and later transferring in 1998 to the New York City landmark which was once the home of Studio 54. Both starred Alan Cumming.

Cumming gave an unforgettable, Tony Award-winning performance as the Master of Ceremonies in a run-down Berlin nightclub before fascism would infiltrate Germany. He would reprise the role in 2014 in yet another Mendes’ helmed revival which, though still fantastic, was essentially the same as his earlier production.

The new Broadway production is also a London transfer. Opening in 2021 and directed by Rebecca Frecknall, it starred Eddie Redmayne, who would win an Olivier Award. The show would go on to be the most decorated revival in Olivier history and continues to play to sold-out crowds there.

Redmayne has relocated from Britain’s Kit Kat Club to New York, where his brand of Emcee mixes the mechanics of Joel Grey‘s original cinematic interpretation with the hedonistic quality of Cumming’s portrayal. Emerging from the stage, Redmayne stares with a glassy glaze, sizing up his victims and moving like a possessed and hypnotic marionette. It’s a perfectly fitting choice.

Cabaret - Eddie Redmayne - Photo: Marc Brenner
Cabaret – Eddie Redmayne – Photo: Marc Brenner

As the host of these proceedings, he is acutely aware of the dangers surrounding his country and its people, but with ironic apathy, he spins a different vision. “Leave your troubles outside!” he instructs the audience. “We have no troubles here! Here, life is beautiful!”

Perhaps. But where is the beauty when visiting American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Ato Blankson-Wood) is solicited by Ernst Ludwig (Henry Gottfried) to carry Nazi materials to Paris for him? Even the presence of Clifford’s live-in girlfriend and singer Sally Bowles (Gayle Rankin) cannot soften the sting of what’s to come. The two fall in love and shack together in a rustic boarding house operated by Fraulein Schneider (Bebe Neuwirth).

Tom Scutt and his team of creatives have done a terrific job of transforming the August Wilson Theater. There is nary a sign on the marquee suggesting this is a Broadway show. Instead, a logo of an eye, flanked by two horizontal lines greet patrons with clean, clear lettering stating, “Kit Kat Club.” Big brother is watching. Audiences are shuffled not through the traditional theater entrance, but through side entrances that feel covert and somewhat illicit.

Once inside, a world of scantly clad dancers and musicians entertain in pre-show rituals that start an hour before showtime. It becomes obvious that the audience is not mere spectators of the story, which takes place in the round on a stage that spins throughout like a carousel seductively devolving into danger. That’s the cool and impressive part.

Less impressive and incredibly annoying is the greedy grab that producers are making to squeak out even more dollars from those who have already paid a large sum for the show. Multiple bars on each floor invite you to partake in themed cocktails that include “The Toast of Mayfair.” Served in a modest pompadour glass, it can be yours for just $29. Sure. Inflation continues and costs have risen. No one indulges in theater concessions expecting discount store prices, but this is an all-time ridiculous high. As the song says, “Money makes the world go round.”

Rankin delivers an unnervingly effective portrayal of Sally, a young starlet facing a breakdown. Upon learning she is pregnant, she sings a stripped-down, heartfelt version of the classic, “Maybe this Time.” Later, when her life has become complete chaos and she is fully unmoored, she unleashes on the show’s title song which is simultaneously shocking and heartbreaking.

Cabaret - Gayle Rankin - Photo: Marc Brenner
Cabaret – Gayle Rankin – Photo: Marc Brenner

Steven Skybell brings heartwarming and endearing earnestness to Herr Schultz, an older suitor to Frauelein Schneider who brushes off the threat of the Third Reich, despite the painful truth that he’ll be targeted as a German Jew.

Blankson-Wood, scintillating and sexy in Broadway’s Slave Play, is much more restrained and stoic in his role of a young writer trying to figure it all out. Although he has a brief flirtation and steals a kiss from one of the Kit Kat boys, one wishes that Frecknall would have pushed the envelope a bit more to reveal the character’s sexual fluidity.

Stage and screen legend Neuwirth is, unfortunately, miscast. To her credit, she still has the physique and finesse of a trained dancer, but seems all too slight for the role. (Not to mention a poor German accent). Schneider, who has seen and done it all, should be stout and sturdy, running her boarding house with steely gravitas. It’s not so in this case.

It’s never a bad time for this great American musical, written by Joe Masteroff and featuring music and lyrics by John Kander and Fred Ebb. As threats of autocracy and broken International laws continue to rumble the globe, it’s as eerily prescient and important as ever.

Cabaret (★★★★☆)is playing an open-ended run at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd St. in New York City. Tickets are $89 to $699. Visit

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