Randy Harrison is raising a bit of hell as the Emcee for Cabaret in midtown Baltimore. I mean, just take a look at that demented, Chucky doll leer. He knows the Devil has his back, and before doing a belly flop in the ultimate brimstone mosh pit, he’s pleased as punch to see you out there in his audience, game for whatever bit of depravity he can shovel your way. Wilkommen!
Forget Bob Fosse’s cheerful scolding of a compliant show business, mirroring life while masking its true horrors. This time around, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s infamous Berlin nightspot is seen as a way station on the road to perdition. The charming old proscenium stage of the Hippodrome has been turned into a Hieronymus Bosch peepshow, and you can’t look away even if you want to.
This national touring production by the Roundabout Theatre Company credits the acclaimed 1993 Sam Mendes revival as its inspiration. If anything, though, director BT McNicholl’s vision is harder and bleaker. At the end, when the damned Sally Bowles asks author Cliff Bradshaw to write about her, it’s like the last glance from a victim whose barrel has reached the very edge of the falls.
Broadway powerhouse Andrea Goss makes you care a lot about this Sally Bowles. She is so committed to playing the fascinating game called life, yet so utterly oblivious to its rules. She barges into Cliff’s aimless existence in 1930s Germany, and for a brief time both of them think that maybe they have found salvation. We pull for them, because if they can somehow make it there, we can make it anywhere.
But let’s not fool ourselves. They are caught in a rigged game, and the sad part is that this time it’s history that holds all the good cards.
Goss has the necessary ingénue sass to lead the Kit Kat Girls through “Don’t Tell Mama,” and the brassy bravado to sell “Mein Herr.” Her penultimate solo on “Cabaret” is so haunted it’s chilling. She knows she is beaten but she clings to her defiance, even as her good-time philosophy that “life is a cabaret” rings particularly hollow in light of what she has been through.
Only in the song “Maybe This Time” does Goss seem temporarily out of sync with her character. As big a moment as it was for Liza Minnelli in the film, it seems out of place for this predatory Sally Bowles to give herself over so totally to such a romantic endgame.
The casting elsewhere is no less satisfying. Lee Aaron Rosen makes a believable Clifford, with more back-story than was allowed in the movie. Rosen has a perfect leading man voice, whether projecting dialogue or emotion.
Shannon Cochran as Fraulein Schneider nails the entire life story of that downtrodden landlady in just four exquisite minutes in her solo, “So What.” Fraulein Schneider is someone who might always be ready to swallow a big romantic daydream, as we see in her duets “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married.” For them she is well matched by a wonderfully grounded Herr Schultz, played with great heart and enthusiasm by Mark Nelson.
Excellent dramatic support is provided by Ned Noyes as Ernst Ludwig, Alison Ewing as Fraulein Kost, and Evan D. Siegel as Rudy.
The choreography by Cynthia Onrubia, following in many of the footsteps of Rob Marshall, always comes off as sharp and inventive, conveying enough of the flavor of the historical background to seem authentic.
The Set Design by Robert Brill is an interesting double-deck platform fringed in electric lights and Mylar strips. The upper story holds the Kit Kat musicians in front of which floats an askew picture frame that brings smart focus to some important key moments.
Lighting Designers Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari provide an almost cinematic fluidity to the scene changes, aided by the continual drifting in and out of the action by Randy Harrison’s Emcee. If life is a three-ring circus, chum, this is one ringmaster who is as omnipresent as he is ominous.
Running Time: About two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.