For over a century, Broadway has been called "The Great White Way," and that legendary theater district's glitz landed with a sparkling explosion on the Marcus Center stage Tuesday night.
The nickname was coined in 1910, and big, big Broadway is here with the opening of "Cabaret," the 50-year-old musical that is as fresh and important today as it was when it opened.
For anyone who has ever wished they had the money to visit one of the famed Broadway theaters, this is the show to see, sparkled by great music, wonderful and inventive choreography, a glittering cast and a story that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go.
From the first moment of the euphonium, the trombone and banjo driven seductive oom-pah and the first word – "Wilkommen," sung by Randy Harrison as the emcee – the audience went along for a ride that careened through love, heartbreak, cruelty, sex and, finally, the politics of Nazi Germany. While the music is memorable, the stories are what grab you.
"Cabaret" is thoroughly familiar to at least two generations of fans. Set in pre-war Germany, the focus is the famed Kit Kat Club where, as the emcee instructs, "Leave your troubles outside. We have no troubles in here."
The Kit Kat Club is a den of immorality. Everything goes, including girls, drugs, liquor, boys and more girls. Presiding over the entire thing is the emcee, who introduces the star of the show, Sally Bowles, played by Andrea Goss.
Injected into this dismal and lustful walled-off-from-the-world party house is Clifford Bradshaw (Lee Aaron Rosen), a struggling American novelist who has come to Berlin in search of a muse.
Bowles becomes his muse for whom life is nothing but a continual party, and she is optimistically delusional even as the party straggles to an end under the weight of the horrors gathering steam in Germany.
In the middle of the story of the two lovers (which may well be a questionable characterization) is the budding love between Fraulein Schneider (Shannon Cochran), the owner of the rooming house where Bradshaw lands, and Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor. But once we see our first swastika, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen to that love affair.
When this show opened in 1966 it changed the course of musical theater in this country. It was a musical that focused on a story, but more than that, on an issue, a subject. It was the story of a changing world told through the dissolute panorama of both the pleasures and sorrows of the flesh.
With the tawdry sexual appetites and satisfactions you might find in a back alley of a rundown border town somewhere, this is a play that makes you a little uneasy in your seat. It’s not fun watching one world of sin slide away while it gives up the ghost to another more powerful world of even greater sin marching straight and sweeping away everything in its path.
This version of the production is the Roundabout Theater remounting, based on the production directed by Sam Mendes in 1998 and co-directed by Rob Marshall. That production became the longest running revival in history with almost 2,500 performances. Roundabout, one of the most respected theaters in New York, created a rehearsal look at the preparations for this national tour and Playbill made it available as a promotional tool:
Harrison is a marvel as the emcee, a role that made famous actors and Tony winners out of Joel Gray and Alan Cummings. He may be remembered as Justin in the five-year Showtime series "Queer as Folk." He combines an innocent and humorous lure with the kind of oily and lurid promise that makes your skin crawl. He’s a muscular and nimble dancer, and has a voice that is both seductive and demanding.
Goss is the kind of actor who has a magic that can’t be ignored. Someone once described the famed actor Helen Hayes as "a person you wouldn’t notice on the street, but put her on a stage and it’s as if you had lighted a thousand incandescent lights behind her eyes." That’s Goss. Lithe and cute as all get out, she combines the little girl we all want to pat on the head with the strumpet we all want to pat everywhere else. Her range is stunning.
With the sassy "Don’t Tell Mama," she dances and sings with the Kit Kat Girls and vividly let’s her world know that she is hot, ready and able for whatever you want to throw her way.
And then at the end, after she has been emptied and worn all the way down, she stands in a simple black dress with a single spotlight and sings the sorrowful "Cabaret," the title song that draws a vividly stark contrast between lyric and truth.
The season of Associated Bank Broadway at the Marcus Center series has been full of exciting productions, but nothing is going to quite match the overwhelming joy of the revival of this exciting musical.
"Cabaret" runs through Feb. 28. Information on tickets and showtimes is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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