It’s been a few years since the 1998 version of Cabaret — reimagined by directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, before either became name-brand big-time movie directors — has been on tour. A similar C-named musical by composers Kander and Ebb (Chicago) has rarely stopped touring, and the differences are apparent: Chicago is a sexy-glam satire of pop culture, filtered through a theme of murder; Cabaret is more of a tragedy-with-music, a prequel of sorts to the Holocaust as Germans fiddled while Berlin burned. Almost without fail, just as a song ends and the audience is primed for an ovation, the sinister Master of Ceremonies (Randy Harrison, exploding with sexual charisma) intercedes, flirtatiously reminding us, “You thought that was cute? These people are doomed.” That’s a lot for a musical to handle.
But not, truth be told, unwelcomed. We’re now inured to “serious” musicals, from Les Miserables (political revolution) to Spring Awakening (sexual revolution), often with characters doing appalling things (even being openly gay!) … but in 1966, when Cabaret debuted (barely a generation after the end of WWII), it was scandalous but compelling. It’s still an amazing show: Set in Weimar Germany during the interregnum, as the Nazis were coming to power and an American writer, Cliff (a stand-in for Christopher Isherwood, who wrote the stories on which it is based) and the grotesquery of a society robbed of its dignity and how it can turn cruel, even evil. And the songs! It’s crammed with metaphor and comedy, and this production — a revival of the 1998 version staged by the Roundabout a few years ago, and now amazing audiences at the Winspear — is an unmissible opportunity, performed with great skill. It’s as unforgettable as it’s ever been.
Note: If you come tonight’s show, June 1, you can even learn more about the behind-the-scenes. I’ll be hosting a post-performance Q&A with Randy Harrison and other members of the cast in Hamon Hall immediately following the performance. You can even get a special discount on tickets if you go to ATTPAC.org/cabaret and enter the code “Voice.” See you tonight!