“Leave your troubles outside, so life is disappointing? Forget it! We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful,” croons the Emcee in the opening number “Willkommen.” As the audience is drawn into the captivating and bawdy world of “Cabaret,” they forget those troubles until their politics are echoed back to them.
This version of the musical is a touring production of the Roundabout Theater Company’s 2014 Broadway revival of Sam Mendes’ (“American Beauty”) Tony Award-winning 1998 revival, which skyrocketed Alan Cumming (“The Good Wife”) into fame.
“Cabaret” follows struggling American novelist Cliff Bradshaw as he arrives in 1930s Berlin, where the arts were king and sexuality was a little more fluid, including his own. Bradshaw is quickly introduced to the seedy Kit Kat Club, where he meets the flirtatious and often guileless Sally Bowles, who forces her way into his life.
Their story, along with a secondary plot involving the members of Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house, where Bradshaw is residing, is told against the rise of the Nazi Party.
The sardonic and sensual Emcee, played by Randy Harrison (“Queer as Folk”), intermittently punctuates the storyline. He serves as the Greek Chorus, foreshadowing the ever impending political climate and moving the story along.
While dressed similarly to Cumming’s 1998 Emcee, Harrison’s Emcee is more callous — almost malevolent. However, the audience still cannot resist being drawn to him as he flirts with and mocks them.
Another star standout was Allison Ewing, who stepped in as Sally Bowles for our performance. Ewing’s Sally is world-weary yet optimistic. One cannot help but wonder how much of her disregard for the realities around her is influenced by the drugs and gin, and how much is plain ignorance. In spite of her circumstances, she desperately wants to be a star, and her potential to achieve this dream shines when Ewing sings.
The minimalistic set is almost a playground for the performers: they climb all over the scaffolding during their numbers. Members of the orchestra double as members of the ensemble. Often leaving their seats to join in song and dance numbers, they serve as the musicians in the cabaret, in addition to those of the musical. While the Fox Theatre does not have as intimate of a setting as Studio 54 or a nightclub, the staging permits the audience to have nearly two performances in one.
Fifty years after its original Broadway debut, “Cabaret” remains as relevant as ever. Sally’s cry that “that’s just politics, and what does that have to do with us?” as she and Cliff discuss leaving Berlin after the increased influence of the Nazi party becomes palpable. Especially in today’s political climate, where so many are quick to accept patriotic rhetoric at the expense of their friends and neighbors, the show was poignant. The audience is once again confronted with their prejudices during “If You Could See Her” after the Emcee reveals the true identity of his ape-woman lover.
As Sally sings in her solo song “Cabaret,” “Life is a cabaret, old chum! Come to the cabaret!” “Cabaret” continues through Sunday at the Fox Theatre.