Thought-provoking ‘Cabaret’ revival is edgy and sexy
[Woody’s Rating: ]
“Cabaret” debuted on Broadway in 1966.
It was edgy, back in the day.
And “in your face” (a decade before that expression was coined).
Politically gutsy as well.
Half a century later, the musical’s entrenched at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco.
Vastly edgier. Vastly sexier. Vastly more in your face.
And still politically gutsy.
With lines and scenes that couldn’t block my scary thoughts about Donald Trump.
Those, and a chilling surprise ending (that had been invented for 1998’s revival, which also won a Tony), reminded me and a gay-heavy crowd that denial and decadence may not deflect fascism.
This touring Roundabout Theatre Company production is one of the most stirring shows — certainly the best musical production — I’ve seen this season.
And the best of seven or eight versions I’ve caught (yes, Joel Grey may have been better in the original, but I missed it).
Here, Randy Harrison brilliantly assumes Grey’s emcee role with an over-the-top combo of cool and bravado, clutching his genitalia and those of others with aplomb, artfully displaying both his sonorous vocal chops and bare swastika-decorated buttocks, and vulgarly teasing the opening night audience while repeatedly breaking the curtain-less fourth wall.
In contrast, Andrea Goss portrays British émigré Sally Bowles with an astounding amount of vulnerability and a voice that’s effective whether she’s whispering words or belting them out.
Truth be told, there’s not a bad vocalist in the cast, not an unconvincing actor, not a poor dancer.
Everything fits — exaggerated, twisted, yet frighteningly real.
Particularly the spare bi-level set by Robert Brill, a San Francisco resident who efficiently utilizes two staircases, three heavy doors that slam loudly, and a huge frame with bulbs that create a brassy nightclub effect; lighting by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari that allows for fascinating shadow effects; fetching costumes by William Ivey Long; and a flashy onstage band with more than 20 musicians.
Especially impressive to me was the casting of undergarment-clad women with imperfect bodies (rather than the usual, perfectly toned Broadway chorines).
A doomed love affair between Sally Bowles, promiscuous Kit Kat Klub thrush, and Clifford Bradshaw, wannabe American novelist in pre-World War II Berlin who’s reading “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s autobiography, to educate himself politically.
Sally’s promiscuous. Clifford’s bisexual. But they love each other, don’t you know.
The all-important subplot?
Fruit shop owner Herr Schultz’s fiancée, Fräulein Schneider, agonizing over his being Jewish.
One of the blatantly sexual show’s highlights is a tableau of a threesome, shown graphically in silhouette behind a scrim.
Others — underscored by the audience’s rousing applause, cheers and catcalls — include topical lines that contain the phrase “live and let live” and a worry about “waiting until the next election” to confront the burgeoning evil.
Unsettling, too, is a scene foreshadowing the infamous Kristallnacht, 1938’s Night of Broken Glass when Nazis torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses, and arrested 30,000 Jewish men and shipped them off to concentration camps.
Check out the title tune (music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, who also collaborated on “Chicago”), “Wilkommen,” “Maybe This Time,” “Money” and “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” with its Hitlerian mantra and salute that evoke current-day attitudes and a simplistic slogan that seem to appeal to the uninformed.
The lone false note in the two-hour-plus show — because it’s hokey and predictable — comes at the top of Act II when the emcee goes into the audience and dances with a woman theatergoer.
And even that’s ameliorated when he follows up by twirling with a male patron.
One more minor annoyance: Spoken accents occasionally vanish when performers burst into song.
To parents, I recommend keeping kids at home.
Unless you want “Cabaret” to substitute for in-school sex education.
But you should go.
It’s fun. And still thought-provoking five decades later.
“Cabaret” runs at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St. (at Market), San Francisco, through July 17. Night performances Tuesdays through Saturdays, 8 p.m.; matinees Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets: $50 to $212 (subject to change). Information: 888-746-1799 or www.shnsf.com.