(Please give me a moment whilst I compose myself).
First and foremost, Alan Cumming's performance is a true work of artistic mastery. I've seen a lot of plays (I don't know if I've mentioned that I majored in Dramatic Literature) and I have never seen a performance with more subtle power and nuance than Alan Cumming as the Emcee. In every great performance I've ever seen, there has always been one "throwaway line," a line that it was clear the actor hadn't really fully realized or didn't actually understand; there are no throwaway lines in Alan's performance, there's no throwaway breaths for the love of the lord. He is a magical presence and manages to simultaneously take you to dark places and make you feel comfortable in those shadows of the world.
My favorite aspect of this play is the omnipresence of Alan's Emcee. During the scenes that don't take place in the Kit Kat Klub, the Emcee lurks and watches the outside action from various perches around and on the stage. He is an audience/performer hybrid that gives you another frame through which to view the world on stage. Alan's presence (sorry I keep referring to him by his first name, but I feel as though he wouldn't mind the familiarity) on stage is so strong and alluring that I often found myself watching the Emcee watch the story unfolding rather than watching the actual scene.
That is not to say the other actors weren't good. They were all superb! Emma Stone made me see Sally Bowls in a whole new light. And having such a young actress play her made Sally's decisions all the more tragic and frustrating to watch. Bill Heck, Clifford Bradshaw, was the perfect mix of the voice of reason and the lens through which we watch the world crumble. Kristie Dale Sanders (understudy) and Danny Burstein as Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz gave heartbreaking performances that brought a singularity back to the mass tragedies of World War II and The Holocaust, while Aaron Krohn and Gayle Rankin as Ernst Ludwig and Fraulein Kost represented the surreptitious invasion of societal forces. They were all beautiful reminders of the lives of joy, frivolity, and love we all want to lead that get cut short and broken by those forces outside of individuals.
The Kit Kat boys and girls were all so well-worn and weary in their movements and choreography that I felt they had been dancing in that club for years on a drowsy autopilot (I mean that in a good way! That's how it should look.).
But to get back to sum up my glowing review of these performances, let me just say that while Emma Stone was fantastic and acted the crap out of Sally, I still left thinking "she's not Liza Minelli", but now, when I watch the movie and see Joel Grey as the Emcee, I'll think "well, he's not Alan Cumming." Which is a little unfair because comparing the two portrayals is an apples to oranges situation. But, Alan has the rare gift as an actor to be able to be synonymous with a role without losing his ability to disappear into other parts that come along in the future: The Emcee is Alan Cumming, not the other way around.
Cabaret is one of my favorite plays. It's one of those works of art that's meaning evolves along with societies and politics, or I dare I say, one's own emotional state. When I saw Cabaret back in the early aughts (Alan was sadly not playing the Emcee at the time), the play's political message was completely lost on me. I was enthralled by the overt and raw sexuality of Sally Bowls and the Kit Kat girls. The Emcee was just creepy and the whole Nazi thing made me terribly nervous. I identified with Sally's desire to take nothing seriously and just be terribly mysterious, intriguing, and glamourous. At 14, I was deeply in love with taking nothing seriously expect being amazing and having a good time. It's also important to notice that this was the summer of 2003: only two years post 9/11 and the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, and only a few months removed from our invasion of Iraq. I don't want to get super political on this blog, but I don't think it's out of line to say that in 2003 our country was still terrified and making a lot of really big decisions based off of our terror. By all means, this play was relevant and yet all I saw was Sally avoiding the conflict by being unapologetically selfish (I guess I thought that was admirable at the time).
12 years later, I saw much of our own crumbling world reflected in the Berlin of Caberet and recognized the Kit Kat Klub as the place where everyone could burry their heads in the sand and pretend the world outside wasn't changing and falling apart around them as the Emcee insists "We have no troubles here." But in a strange twist on that refrain, at the play's conclusion he asks you "Where are your troubles now?" Perhaps a decade ago my response was, "Man, I don't have any troubles...those people in Berlin, they had troubles!" But this time around I found myself thinking about everything that has happened in this country, not to mention the world over the past 6 months alone and I realized the answer was, that those troubles had in fact become too pervasive to be blocked out by the noise of distraction and denial. I'd grown out of being Sally and instead was a little more Cliff (If you don't know what this means, you should go watch the movie Cabaret right now and all will be made clear).
I don't say these things to bum you out, since I realize you don't read lifestyle blogs for the current events. In fact you probably read them as some form of a distraction. I say this to demonstrate what a powerful play Cabaret is even without the top notch performances. The story alone stands the test of time and the top notch performances are just a cherry on top.
If you live in the Tri-State area just do yourself a favor and go get your tickets now! If you don't, I am terribly sorry, but you will not get the amazing experience of seeing my new best friend, Alan Cumming revive the role of a lifetime in the old Studio 54 where a very young Alec Baldwin once did a lot of cocaine with super hot people. And that's all I have to say about that! (Thanks for sticking with me through this word-heavy post! You can't take pictures in Broadway Theaters, so there wasn't much I could give you visually).