This ‘Cabaret’ Is the Worst ‘Cabaret’

With none of the glamour Julie Harris brought to the role and not a shred of Liza Minnelli’s vulnerability or poignancy, Gayle Rankin hams it up all over the stage, massacring the songs and dedicating herself to the idea that no song is worth singing unless it can also be screamed.

I don’t like Eddie Redmayne; I love Eddie Redmayne. I have admired his work in all of his films and plays and consider him one of the few genuine icons in the world of acting. But not in Cabaret. (Pictured: Eddie Redmayne as The Emcee in Cabaret.) Marc Brenner

After five Broadway incarnations of Cabaret and endless productions worldwide, you’d think, by now, they’d get it right—in their sleep. But there’s always something wrong whenever the curtain opens on a new version of the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical. Declared a dark masterpiece with hit songs when Harold Prince’s original production first opened in 1966 and ran for 1,165 performances, it featured two of the most unforgettable stars who ever appeared on a New York stage—Joel Grey as the emcee in a seedy Nazi honkytonk called the Kit Kat Club, and the legendary (a word so overused it has become meaningless, but this time it truthfully works) Lotte Lenya as the proprietress of a struggling Berlin boarding house. With Lenya in the center spot, there was no worry about recreating an accurate pre-war Germany. When the lights hit her gnarled but beautiful face, she brought the Weimar Republic onstage with her like no one else could. The rest of the cast vanished without a trace. In later revivals, Polly Bergen recreated some of Fraulein Schneider’s magic, and so did opera star Regina Resnick. In the current offering, the usually reliable Bebe Neuwirth comes nowhere close. Nobody has ever totally captured the starring role once owned by Joel Grey, but I enjoyed Raul Esparza as the sexiest and Alan Cumming as the sleaziest of the emcees, both in the 1998 revival at Studio 54 that ran another 2,377 performances. 

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The unparalleled star power of Sally Bowles, the untalented and poverty-plagued good-time girl who sings and sleeps her way through the Berlin underground and charms pre-war Germany at any cost, is a dream that refuses to come alive in the woefully miscast Gayle Rankin. The greatest Sally in history is still Julie Harris in the black-and-white British film I Am a Camera (1955), from the play of the same name by John Van Druten, stunningly based on the autobiographical Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood. The most famous Sally will probably always be Liza Minnelli, who won an Oscar for the Technicolor movie by Bob Fosse. And the worst Sally is Gayle Rankin. With none of the glamour Julie Harris brought to the role and not a shred of Liza Minnelli’s vulnerability or poignancy, she hams it up all over the stage, massacring the songs and dedicating herself to the idea that no song is worth singing unless it can also be screamed. “Mein Herr” is now yelled with the fury of Medea killing her children, and both of the show’s enduring ballads, “Cabaret” and “Maybe This Time,” are all but incomprehensible. Clifford Bradshaw, the American character based on Isherwood, is now a boring bespectacled somebody played by someone named Ato Blankston-Wood, and if you can stand him, you can have him.         

That pretty much leaves Eddie Redmayne to carry the ball by himself. In honesty, I must confess I don’t like Eddie Redmayne; I love Eddie Redmayne. I have admired his work in all of his films and plays and consider him one of the few genuine icons in the world of acting. But not in Cabaret. Word of mouth and actual praise from London that floated across the pond promised pure gold. I couldn’t wait to see him as the emcee. Now that I have, I’d say he’s more like rusted tin. Saddled with a phony German accent, he desperately needs subtitles for the viewer to decipher the guttural gibberish of his exaggerated polyglot.  

The ambiance of Berlin after dark is described as tawdry and vulgar, and the producers, set designer Tom Scutt, and misguided director Rebecca Frecknall seem determined to prove it. Even the mercenary decadence of the creepy Kit Kat Klub is over the top. The title is now changed to Cabaret at the Kit Kat Klub, as if we didn’t get the message on our own. The August Wilson Theatre has been gutted to make sure we know it’s a dank, dreary and dangerous Nazi hangout. Instead of enhancing the drama, the set serves as nothing more than a gimmick. Free sips of particularly vile cherry schnapps are available, but the aisles beyond the preposterously overpriced cocktail tables are so narrow they prevent the waiters from reaching the seats beyond the first three rows. I gave my drink vouchers away to a thirsty waiter who was exhausted from trying in vain to serve an audience that didn’t want schnapps in the first place.

This Cabaret is not the worst musical on Broadway. It’s just the worst Cabaret.

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Klub| 2hrs 45mins. One intermission. | The August Wilson Theatre | 245 W 52nd Street | 877-250-2929 | Buy Tickets Here 

 

This ‘Cabaret’ Is the Worst ‘Cabaret’