CABARET 2014 Revival
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Review Roundup: CABARET Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

Review Roundup: CABARET Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

Roundabout Theatre Company's Cabaret on Broadway, starring Alan Cumming in his Tony Award-winning role as "Emcee" and three-time Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams as "Sally Bowles" opens tonight, April 24, 2014 and runs through January 4, 2015 at at the newly transformed Kit Kat Klub at Studio 54 on Broadway (254 West 54th Street).

For this production, Academy Award-winner Sam Mendes (director) and Academy Award nominee Rob Marshall (co-director/choreographer) have recreated their Tony-nominated direction and choreography from the 1998 Tony Award-winning production. Cabaret features a book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. It is based on the play by John Van Drutenand stories by Christopher Isherwood. The original design team returned for the 2014 production featuring set and club design by Robert Brill, costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari and sound design by Brian Ronan. Patrick Vaccariello is the Musical Director.

The cast also features two-time Tony nominee Linda Emond as Fraulein Schneider, four-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein as Herr Schultz, Bill Heck as Cliff, Aaron Krohn as Ernst and Gayle Rankin as Fraulein Kost.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: A little more than 16 years after it first opened, and only a decade after it closed, it feels as if the popular Roundabout Theater Company production of "Cabaret" never left Studio 54, where it reopened on Thursday night. Alan Cumming, who won a Tony as the nasty M.C. in 1998, is back, offering a slightly looser, older-but-wiser variation on the same performance...The most conspicuous difference is the bright blond actress portraying Sally...The promiscuous, hard-partying Sally is now embodied by a very brave Michelle Williams, who doesn't look all that happy to be there. I'm assuming that's more a matter of character interpretation than of personal discomfort, but it does put sort of a damper on the festivities...Leading the Kit Kat girls in nightclub production numbers like "Don't Tell Mama" and "Mein Herr" with a shiny, metallic vibrato, Ms. Williams comes closer to evoking the musical style of the Depression than any Sally I've seen. And for her climactic performance of the show's title song, she has the shouty power and shell-shocked stare of someone who's seen the future and knows that it's terrifying.

David Cote, Time Out New York: Cumming's bouncy downtown energy keeps Cabaret from seeming like a period piece, and his new costars pull their weight. Waifish and vocally tremulous, Michelle Williams is credibly lost as Sally Bowles, a wanna-be bad girl who sings at the club; Bill Heck is appealing as her unlikely lover, Cliff, a sexually ambiguous writer. Though too young for their roles, Linda Emond and the lovable Danny Burstein are forceful and touching as Cliff's practical landlady and her menschy Jewish suitor; and Gayle Rankin is vividly gaudy as Fräulein Kost, a whore with a heart of flint.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Not a revival so much as a revival of a revival, this "Cabaret" -- again produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company -- opened Thursday night, with only hours to spare before its eligibility expired. Whatever it's called, it's as thrilling as ever, a marvel of staging that hasn't lost its punch...One big change is the woman in the bob: Michelle Williams makes her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles and she does an excellent job, playing both scared and daffy superbly and singing with real heart...Williams starts out a little tentatively but soon roars into the role and her version of the title song has a wrenching, dead-eyed quality that hauntingly undercuts its light lyrics...Cumming is as lascivious as ever -- more playful than Joel Grey-scary in the film version...The addition of Linda Emond as the landlady Fraulein Schneider and Danny Burstein as her Jewish suitor Herr Schultz are strokes of casting genius.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: ...there's simply no wrong time to revisit Sam Mendes' and Rob Marshall's thrilling production, which is even sharper this time around, with Alan Cumming reprising his louche Emcee alongside Michelle Williams' shattering Sally Bowles...Even for those of us who experienced it the first time around, this atmospheric revival is a bracing ride...Cumming is now 20 years older than when he first played the pansexual Master of Ceremonies, and his seductive performance in this career-defining role remains a knockout...he can be saucy and insinuating, cruel and menacing, downright debauched or dead-eyed and cold, often all at once...There's a riveting hard-soft dichotomy in Williams' performance. On one hand, she's the coke-snorting, armor-plated Sally who uses her frivolous disinterest in politics as an excuse to ignore the encroaching horror. On the other, she's the fragile creature who dreams of love and fulfillment while never quite convincing herself that those things are within reach...Mendes and Marshall have precision-tooled the production so that its hard, diamond edges glisten with sweat and sparkle.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: What do you call a revival of a revival? A re-revival? In the case of this "Cabaret," you just call it fantastic.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Alan Cumming must have sold his soul to the devil to acquire his divinely debauched persona as the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub in "Cabaret." It seemed nuts, but proved shrewd of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall to retool their dazzling 1998 revival of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece, fit Cumming with a new trenchcoat for his triumphant return, and bring the decadent netherworld of 1920s Berlin back to Studio 54, the revival's ideal venue. Inspiration flagged, however, in casting Michelle Williams, so soft and vulnerable in "My Week With Marilyn," as wild and reckless party girl Sally Bowles.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Cumming, who began his huge American career with this Tony-winning pansexual ghoul of a performance, seems older, seedier, more used up than he did back when Sam Mendes' you-are-there environmental staging of the 1966 Kander/Ebb masterwork was so new and dangerous and radical. In other words, Cumming is better than ever -- wiser, more dissipated, even more deeply entertaining in the role he stunningly recreated from Joel Grey's iconic original. And that freshness is so infectious it spills over into a landmark production that closed in 2004 but feels, with one uneasy exception, as confident -- and about as dangerous -- as if it has been running ever since. The exception, alas, is Michelle Williams, making her Broadway and musical debut as Sally Bowles...Her Sally is timid, bland and covered up in costumes that make her seem almost chaste.

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: The riotous fun of the Kit Kat boys and girls is firmly in place, and the joy they all take in playing their instruments is infectious. We need such relief as the book scenes feel a little plodding. High quality global journalism requires investment. Williams plays Sally as a British baby doll. She sings well but not too well. She makes no Liza Minnelli-type pleas for our sympathy. Instead, Williams offers intense desperation. She holds on to the microphone stand as if aware into just what abyss she will spin if she lets go.

Robert Feldberg, "Cabaret," which opened at Studio 54 Thursday night, is the last show of the 2013-14 Broadway season. And perhaps the most exciting. Yet, it's totally fresh and crisp, and completely seductive, with Alan Cumming repeating his memorable performance, and Hollywood's Michelle Williams making a triumphant Broadway debut.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: But even if you saw it last time, you are strongly advised -- no, urged -- to return. The reasons to do so include both a familiar face in the cast and a few new ones.Alan Cumming, whose indelibly naughty, biting performance redefined the role of the Klub's Emcee, revisits the character with renewed senses of mischief and urgency that will leave you riveted, from the moment he introduces a deliciously bawdy Willkommen to his final, chilling adieu. The Scottish Cumming is joined by two of today's finest American stage actors, Linda Emond and Danny Burstein, who lend fresh insights...The real revelation of this Cabaret, though, is its leading lady, the film star Michelle Williams...Williams brings to the role a pained fragility that feels distinctive, and makes Sally's determination to not face either her past or the world crumbling around her especially poignant...It's a star turn that, even in this rich season, is truly unmissable -- as is this Cabaret in general.

Dave Quinn, NBC New York: Times, they have a-changed. And suddenly the sexual aggressiveness of the 1998 "Cabaret" seems tame. To put it another way: imagine watching Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" video for the first time today. Would you be as outraged by Spears' sexy schoolgirl look having seen Miley Cyrus swing around naked on a wrecking ball? Just because this "Cabaret" doesn't carry the same shock value as it once did doesn't mean we should strip this production of its worth...Cumming's Emcee is mischievous and funny as ever. But age has allowed Cumming to mature his character in ways we haven't seen before. His Emcee is more in command now, and when he peers in on the action from the shallows, it feels less observant and more foreboding. Like he knows the inevitability of what's ahead...And then there's Michelle Williams' stunning and heartbreaking portrayal of nightclub singer Sally Bowles...It took me a bit to notice the nuance and layers the three-time Oscar nominee has built into Sally...Williams' voice is lush, for example, but she adds shaky moments to show us that Sally's internal insecurities. Throughout, Williams gives us these little crumbs of what becomes a tragic, beautiful character.

Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: Why so soon? A better question might be: Why not? This Cabaret is a superb production of one of the great Broadway musicals of all time-an exhilarating, harrowing masterpiece. In Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall's staging, Cumming is the corroded soul of the show; he haunts it and intrudes on it, magnetically mercurial...Cumming's bouncy downtown energy keeps Cabaret from seeming like a period piece, and his new costars pull their weight. Waifish and vocally tremulous, Michelle Williams is credibly lost as Sally Bowles, a wanna-be bad girl who sings at the club; Bill Heck is appealing as her unlikely lover, Cliff, a sexually ambiguous writer. Though too young for their roles, Linda Emond and the lovable Danny Burstein are forceful and touching as Cliff's practical landlady and her menschy Jewish suitor; and Gayle Rankin is vividly gaudy as Fräulein Kost, a whore with a heart of flint.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Though Michelle Williams is credible but not memorable in her Broadway debut as songstress Sally Bowles, her performance can't mar the Roundabout's redo (re-revival?) of its Tony-winning 1998 take at Studio 54...As before, the oily emcee looms especially large. Alan Cumming won a Tony for the role 16 years ago. Beaming with creepy charisma, the sly Cumming is better than ever conjuring an androgynous bottom feeder whose smile hides something much darker and grimmer... a platinum-blond Williams assumes an English accent and an almost jolly and girlish demeanor flecked with desperation. She comes off so feathery that Sally could fly away -- except for her full-tilt go at the title song. Besides that final scene, Williams comes off paler and wispier than desired. Maybe next time.

David Finkle, The Huffington Post: Let me quickly specify that Cumming, repeating the role that brought him a Tony 16 years ago, is every juicy leer as good now as he was then in his role of the deliciously decadent compere at the Third Reich's Kit Kat Klub in Berlin...Time now unfortunately, for the problems besetting this Cabaret incarnation. The major one is the accomplished movie star Michelle Williams in her Main Stem bow as Sally Bowles...The singing's not the snag. Just about everything else, starting with her English accent, is...The high point and low point of her performance are the same: her rendition of the title song. Technically, she delivers it extremely well and for her efforts receives sustained applause. As an expression of Sally Bowles's state of mind, the way librettist Joe Masteroff and Ebb write, Williams has it all wrong--and so have director Mendes, Marshall and Onrubia, if they're allowing this misconstrued treatment.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: With this 2014 "Cabaret," audiences will come to see Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, and that's the big change with Mendes and Marshall's remounting...At Studio 54, Linda Emond and Danny Burstein take the middle-aged Schneider and Schultz and turn them into mature star-crossed lovers whose hearts beat more passionately than any teenagers' ever could...Michelle Williams also begins well, as the third-rate chanteuse who will never graduate from the Kit Kat Klub...One thing is clear: This Sally will do anything to succeed, and as cookies go she's too tough to crack in the arms of any man, gay or straight...Alan Cumming is back in the role that Joel Grey made famous. Despite several returns to the Emcee, Grey always remained a nasty little imp. Cumming, on the other hand, is now giving a self-referential performance that softens the character considerably.

Jesse Green, Vulture: I'm not sure you could call Cumming, with his rouged nipples and S&M undergear, tame; certainly he's tireless. But as the only holdover cast member, he's also the only one with a need to articulate a deeper understanding of his character. I'm not sure this can be done with a character who is a concept; at any rate, Cumming over-articulates the Emcee, illustrating every word he speaks like a mime instructor. Some of the punch lines get killed by the huge pauses he takes to set them up...The performers who make the most of their material are in fact the two who have the least background in musicals. Michelle Williams's head voice is breathy, with a hummingbird vibrato; her belt is solid if somewhat coarse. But these are not handicaps with Sally, and in any case she acts the hell out of the role...Not even Richardson, superb as she was, brought quite this sense of brimming irrepressibility to the role: irrepressible eagerness and irrepressible sorrow. And, somehow, both together.

Emma Brockes, The Guardian: The 1998 production was staged in the same venue, Studio 54, and starred Jennifer Jason Leigh as Sally Bowles, which she played with spiky, unpredictable abandon. Michelle Williams is a very different kind of actor, in this instance gauche, touching, unsure of herself in a way that seems as true to the idea of Sally Bowles as more robust approaches...As was the case the first time round, the show is Alan Cumming's and his MC has to be one of the great stage performances of all time. It's so rare to get a second shot at seeing something this good, you should do anything you can to get a ticket. Where Joel Grey, in the movie version, was impish and sinister, Cumming is brutish, jack-booted, playing the part with a yobbish licentiousness that highlights just how close the satirist and the satirised come to looking to each other in the end. It's a hard thing to be saucy and menacing at the same time, but Cumming pulls it off.

Hermione Hoby, The Telegraph: Michelle Williams, an enormously gifted screen actress, is making her Broadway debut with this role. Doll-like in her blonde bob, she's more girlish than fatale, playing it with an unsteady, skittish desperation and a plummy, naughty accent that seems directly modelled on Renee Zellwegger's Bridget Jones. No bad thing, but occasionally it slips and falters and, like the accent, the spoken parts of her performance sometimes feel wobbly. She becomes more and more compelling, however, as the show goes on, singing and dancing with a furious, madcap quality and by the time she delivers the title number she's at the height of her power...Alan Cumming, made up like an Otto Dix painting, is perfect as the delicious and depraved Master of Ceremonies and he sets the tone for a show that's as riotously risqué as it is ultimately ruthless.

Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: It is hard to think of a single revival of any musical that has achieved such fusion with the popular perception of the material. That makes this remounting, or reviving, or whatever the Tony Awards committee is calling it, perfectly justifiable in my book. Mendes' "Cabaret" was, and is, a brilliantly inventive and revealing conception. Then and now...Cumming now oozes relaxed confidence in his charms, whereas he formerly spilled unctuous ambition. Both work, frankly. Cumming does not kill himself anymore, but there is no demonstrable need. He is, really, the consummate Emcee -- others who take on hosting duties at the Kit Kat Klub invariably copy him -- and his relationship with his delighted audience now arrives with ease...Williams, who makes her Broadway debut as Sally, certainly taps into the fragility of her character...She does not, however, deliver the famous numbers with the force (or tonal quality) of a great Broadway singer, which she is not.

Toby Zinman, The Philadelphia Inquirer: Scholars tell us that the ancient Greek masks of Comedy and Tragedy were often hung on the same hook. The face underneath those masks might have been Alan Cumming's. His dazzling Emcee is at first comic, leading us on a louche pansexual romp through the decadence of Berlin during the Weimar years. Then his performance grows darker and darker, as the show does, as despair and terror creep in as the Nazis gain power. Cumming is so irresistible that nobody else onstage stands much of a chance...Michelle Williams, lovely as she is, is the weak link in this big strong cast. She seems neither desperate nor outrageous nor self-mocking, as Sally Bowles needs to be, and even in her huge rendition of the show's title song, she seems to be trying too hard, too rehearsed, too controlled, too humorless.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal: I don't share in the general enthusiasm for Mr. Cumming's overcooked performance, which pales in intensity when compared to the diamond-hard detachment that Joel Grey, who created the role in the original stage production, brought to Bob Fosse's extraordinary 1972 film version, from which Messrs. Mendes and Marshall borrowed a thing or three. But Michelle Williams plays Sally Bowles, the shopworn diva of the Kit Kat Club, with a poignant blend of vulnerability and desperation, while Linda Emond and Danny Burstein are as good as it gets as Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, the couple whose middle-age romance serves as a backdrop to Sally's doomed affair with the bisexual Clifford Bradshaw (played with just the right amount of small-town naiveté by Bill Heck). While I like "Cabaret" better when it's done on a smaller scale with shabbier décor, the way that Rhode Island's Trinity Repertory Company did it in 2009, this staging is fabulously good in its fancier way.

Roma Torre, NY1: Sally Bowles ranks right up there as an iconic figure in modern literature. Reckless and carefree, she's a British club singer in Weimar Germany of modest talent. Irresistible to men, she's insecure and must be seen as vulnerable. Natasha Richardson had those qualities in spades. Granted, this is not an easy role, but Michelle Williams, whether miscast or just not up to the challenge, is missing some vital ingredients. Sally talks of allure, but Williams' Sally is largely lacking in that department. And because of this, the entire show is thrown off. Suddenly, the people we care most about are Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz. And while Linda Emond and Danny Burstein are marvelous in the roles, they upstage the main plot - Sally's relationship with her American bisexual lover, Clifford Bradshaw.

Matt Windman, amNY: Anyone who is unfamiliar with "Cabaret," or even just this version of it, should definitely check it out. But as for everyone else, it's really just more of the same. Even a new production that proved to be less innovative would have been more exciting than this rehash. As the Emcee, Alan Cumming retains the sleazy presence that made his performance so entrancing originally. On the other hand, Michelle Williams makes a shaky Broadway debut, coming off as too fragile to portray the sexually aggressive singer Sally Bowles.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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