Cabaret Reviews and Photographs

“Cabaret,” the Kander and Ebb musical about a naif in pre-Nazi Germany, is opening on Broadway for the fourth time, almost half a century after its first production, starring Alan Cumming reprising his role as the Master of Ceremonies, and featuring the Broadway debut of Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles. It is directed by Sam Mendes, co-directed and choreographed by Rob Marshall. 

What did the critics think?

Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater:From the very beginning of the Roundabout’s re-revival of “Cabaret,” when a spotlight first illuminates Alan Cumming’s eyes — as if he has opened the rectangular slot in the door of a speakeasy deciding whether to let us in — and then switches focus to his beckoning hand, Cumming’s sensuous, sinuous, insinuating performance has us hooked…But there are many other reasons besides Alan Cumming’s mesmerizing performance to see “Cabaret,” which can lay claim to being one of the greatest musicals ever written for the American theater.”

Jesse Green, New York Magazine: “It’s an irony of this production, which for all my quibbles is nevertheless excellent and needs to be seen, that it is most excellent in the old ways: the pre-Cabaret ways.”

Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: Great musical dramas like “Cabaret” — entertaining, tuneful and illuminating — are all too rare.Though Michelle Williams is credible but not memorable in her Broadway debut as songstress Sally Bowles, her performance can’t mar the Roundabout’s redo (re-revival?) of its Tony-winning 1998 take at Studio 54.

Ben Brantley, NY Times: A little more than 16 years after it first opened, and only a decade after it closed, it feels as if the popular Roundabout Theater Company production of “Cabaret” never left Studio 54…. Alan Cumming, who won a Tony as the nasty M.C. in 1998, is back, offering a slightly looser, older-but-wiser variation on the same performance. The show’s co-directors, Rob Marshall (also its choreographer) and Sam Mendes, have returned, too, along with their ace design team, and they haven’t messed around much with a successful formula….The promiscuous, hard-partying Sally is now embodied by a very brave Michelle Williams, who doesn’t look all that happy to be there. I’m assuming that’s more a matter of character interpretation than of personal discomfort, but it does put sort of a damper on the festivities.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety:  “Alan Cumming must have sold his soul to the devil to acquire his divinely debauched persona as the Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub in “Cabaret.” It seemed nuts, but proved shrewd of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall to retool their dazzling 1998 revival of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece, fit Cumming with a new trenchcoat for his triumphant return, and bring the decadent netherworld of 1920s Berlin back to Studio 54, the revival’s ideal venue. Inspiration flagged, however, in casting Michelle Williams, so soft and vulnerable in “My Week With Marilyn,” as wild and reckless party girl Sally Bowles.”

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press:   a revival of a revival, this “Cabaret” …is as thrilling as ever, a marvel of staging…One big change is the woman in the bob: Michelle Williams makes her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles and she does an excellent job, playing both scared and daffy superbly and singing with real heart….Cumming is as lascivious as ever….Not much is new here. But great things don’t always need them.”

Linda Winder, Newsday:  “Cumming is better than ever — wiser, more dissipated, even more deeply entertaining in the role he stunningly recreated from Joel Grey’s iconic original. And that freshness is so infectious it spills over into a landmark production that closed in 2004 but feels, with one uneasy exception, as confident — and about as dangerous — as if it has been running ever since. The exception, alas, is Michelle Williams…Her Sally is timid, bland and covered up in costumes that make her seem almost chaste.”

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: “There’s simply no wrong time to revisit Sam Mendes‘ and Rob Marshall‘s thrilling production, which is even sharper this time around, with Alan Cumming reprising his louche Emcee alongside Michelle Williams‘ shattering Sally Bowles…Underneath her cultivated Mayfair accent and party-girl bravado, Sally can’t quite hide the fear that people will see through her. Williams, whose ability to convey porcelain vulnerability makes her such a compelling screen actress, ideally captures that duality. What’s more surprising is the assurance with which she handles the song-and-dance requirements. “

Dave Quinn, NBC New York:  “The Roundabout Theatre Company has produced an exact restaging of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s 1998 Tony-winning production. From the Playbill cover design to the fringe on the lamps of the tables of the Kit Kat Klub, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a time machine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing….“Cabaret” is a seductive piece of theater, beautifully designed and with stellar performances throughout.”

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: 5 out of 5 stars:  “Why so soon? A better question might be: Why not? This Cabaret is a superb production of one of the great Broadway musicals of all time—an exhilarating, harrowing masterpiece. In Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s staging, Cumming is the corroded soul of the show; he haunts it and intrudes on it, magnetically mercurial….Cumming’s bouncy downtown energy keeps Cabaret from seeming like a period piece, and his new costars pull their weight.”

Matthew Murray, Talkin Broadway: “This Cabaret is today what it’s always been: a terrible idea brilliantly executed, an erotic embrace that crushes the material it’s ostensibly trying to arouse. Remounting, rather than rethinking, what was done in 1998 only exacerbates the old problems, and though this version served then, as now, as a necessary corrective for the dull and sloppy 1987 revamp, it’s tough not to wish a decade and a half had inspired wisdom to employ tactics other than photocopying.”

David Finkle, Huffington Post: the overall feel is of something being recreated by the numbers….The electricity that charged the air in 1998 and for the length of that run is somehow missing.


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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