Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome: "Cabaret" returns to Broadway

In 1966, when the John Kander-Fred Ebb musical “Cabaret” first appeared on Broadway, audiences were dazzled, and disconcerted, by the show’s depiction of life in early 1930s Berlin.

Joel Grey played the Emcee of the Kit Kat Club; he would reprise the role in the Oscar-winning 1972 film version, welcoming patrons to “leave your troubles outside!”

But it’s an invitation laced with menace, since waiting in the wings is the horror of the Nazi Third Reich.

“The cabaret is a place of hope,” said actress Gayle Rankin. “And I think it’s why all of these really extraordinary beings descend on it, and how that hope is dashed and broken and destroyed.”

Is “Cabaret” a warning? “For me, it is,” said actor Eddie Redmayne. “It shows the hope, the joy, the aspiration, but it shows how progress can be taken from you, and we can regress.”

Eddie Redmayne plays the Emcee in a re-imagining of the classic musical “Cabaret.”

Marc Brenner

In the brand-new production, renamed “Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club,” opening this weekend on Broadway, Rankin plays funny, flighty, live-for-today singer Sally Bowles, a role immortalized by Liza Minnelli in the movie. “I started thinking about Liza the other night, and I was like: Stop! Stop it!” she laughed. “I was like: I honor you, I honor you, I honor you, I have to go on stage now!

And a serpentine Redmayne seduces the crowd as the Emcee. “Every night, beneath where you’re standing, I sort of emerge from down here [with] that iconic drum roll. I stand in the bottom waiting to be rocketed up to the stage, and it feels like going to the guillotine. And then, just as it just starts to rise, something euphoric happens.”

Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee, with the Kit Kat Girls, in “Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club.”

Marc Brenner

Both Rankin and Redmayne have been to the “Cabaret” before; she, in a supporting role in the 2014 revival starring Alan Cumming; Redmayne (an Oscar- and Tony-winner) in the 2021 London staging of this new production.

But his connection goes back even farther: “I was about 14 or 15 years old, I was at school, and I was cast as the Emcee. And I’d never listened to ‘Cabaret,’ so that was my introduction to it. And something in that experience struck me. I don’t come from a very theatrical family. My parents were always beautifully supportive, but from an early age I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I wanna do.’ And my parents were like, ‘Okay, but we hear all the statistics about actors being out of work. And I don’t know, is this the thing?’

“And I’ll never forget that after they came to see my school production of ‘Cabaret,’ they were like, ‘Go for it.'”

For this production the stage is surrounded on three sides by seats. In a radical re-imagining of the August Wilson Theatre, designer Tom Scutt ripped out the old stage and added seating to create a nightclub in the round.

“It needs to feel different,” Scutt said. “It needs to kind of shake us up and take us into a different world, and needs to sort of let us forget where we are and who we are. This can only happen if you are witnessing other audience members going through the same thing as you [are], the same feelings that you are. I think the more we can do that, the better.”

Gayle Rankin as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club.” 

Marc Brenner

Even getting to your seat in this production is an experience. Rather than enter through the theater’s front doors, denizens of this Kat Kat Club walk in through the side, for a show before the show. Redmayne said, “You get taken into these cavernous bars, and you pass performers, musicians, extraordinary dancers, with the idea being that once you enter the theater – the theater proper – you have genuinely left all your troubles outside. You’re in Weimar Germany.”

Two-time Tony-winner Bebe Neuwirth said, “They’re lulling you into a feeling that makes you understand just how evil the evil is.”

Neuwirth plays Fräulein Schneider, the gentile owner of a boarding house who falls in love with a Jewish man, and then faces a terrible decision. “There’s darkness and there’s light in everything,” Neuwirth said. “And in this show, there is light and there is horror as well.”

Bebe Neuwirth. 

CBS News

When asked why “Cabaret” keeps coming back, Neuwirth replied, “The first answer is the music, because it’s just glorious. It’s also, sadly, timeless, because it is also a story about encroaching evil, and what do we do in the face of it? Do we recognize it? Do we acknowledge it? Do we fight it?”

“Even in the happiest moments, it’s there, right?” asked Rocca.

“That’s right,” said Neuwirth. “You can feel it just beyond the theater’s doors. Just outside there are rumblings.”

The musical “Cabaret” turns 58 this year. Original Emcee Joel Grey recently visited the theater to celebrate his 92nd birthday, and confer his blessing on Eddie Redmayne, Gayle Rankin and the rest of the company. They hope to welcome many more patrons to their club.

“Oh, my gosh, wait until my mom and dad come over,” said Redmayne. “They’re so excited. My dad, I spoke to him the other day, he’s like, ‘I just hate the fact that you’re over in New York. I could be there every night!”

For more info:

Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: Ed Givnish. 

See also:

In 2023 Joel Grey and John Kander were honored with lifetime achievement Tony Awards. In this special video tribute, actors who have played the Emcee in the London production of “Cabaret” (Olivier Award-winner Eddie Redmayne, Callum Scott Howells, Matthew Gent, Fra Fee, Mason Alexander Park, and John McCrea) honor Grey and Kander for their astonishing musical theater creations:

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