On the Red Carpet: The Broadway Revival of Cabaret Is 'Like Walking Into a Circus' | Playbill

Opening Night On the Red Carpet: The Broadway Revival of Cabaret Is 'Like Walking Into a Circus'

John Kander reacts to the new revival. Plus, RuPaul's Drag Race cast members Jackie Cox, Peppermint, Alexis Michelle and Willam made an appearance.

Gayle Rankin and Eddie Redmayne Michaelah Reynolds

The buzzy, Olivier-winning Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club has officially made its way to Broadway, and the opening night red carpet had just as much style and swagger as the Kit Kat Club itself. In a unique twin opening celebration, the show held two nights of red carpet festivities, with a gala celebration beginning April 20 leading into the official April 21 opening night. Read the reviews here

The production is led by Oscar, Tony, and Olivier winner Eddie Redmayne as The Emcee, with Scottish actor Gayle Rankin as Sally Bowles. Rebecca Frecknall made her Broadway directorial debut with the highly-anticipated transfer—much talked about not only because of its high-profile stars, but also because of its immersive atmosphere. 

"We wanted to create something that felt like it was in a non-traditional space, and where audiences could really come and experience the world of it in a completely unique way," Frecknall told Playbill on opening night. 

Purchase the Cabaret 2024 Revival Limited Edition Opening Night Playbill

The August Wilson Theatre, home last season to Funny Girlhas been completely transformed for Cabaret, creating performance spaces throughout the lobbies for pre-show entertainment with the Prologue Company. The stage and orchestra of the play space has been reconfigured to create a fully in-the-round theatre. Tom Scutt is club and scenic designer. 

Redmayne, who was instrumental in bringing the production to life, as it was he who first approached Frecknall with the idea, walked us through the space and the ideas behind it: "When you enter, you step over the threshold into the building here at the August Wilson, and you enter through an alleyway, through a sort of remote entrance. And you're taken down into these cavernous spaces that have been completely redesigned—past dancers, past musicians. You're meant to be discombobulated and taken out of your world of 52nd Street where we are now—to leave those troubles outside. And by the time you then come into the theatre space itself, which sits in the round, the space is charged and you are ready to have a night in which you're subsumed by a story. For me, that's what I dream of when I go to the theatre—every single sense is lit on fire."

The audience may be disarmed by Cabaret but Playbill was able to surprise the cast on the red carpet. Playing off of one of Sally's cabaret numbers "Don't Tell Mama," Playbill had a little fun with opening night guests, asking them to confess something they would not tell mama. Watch the video below and read on for more opening night coverage from Cabaret.

Cabaret first premiered on Broadway in 1966. It features music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, and a book by Joe Masteroff. It is based on the 1951 play I Am a Camera by John Van Druten which was drawn from 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood about his own time in the Weimar Republic. This new mounting marks the musical's fifth Broadway staging.

Rankin previously appeared on Broadway in the 2014 revival of Cabaret as Fraulein Kost (the one who keeps bringing home all the sailors). This powerhouse turn as Sally Bowles is her first return to the Main Stem since her debut. With the rich history of the show and the many leading ladies who have stepped into Sally Bowles, Rankin knew that the only way to truly tackle the legacy was to be authentically herself in the role. 

"I did really want to bring myself to it—myself as I am now—because I think that's the only way I can really honor Sally, also whilst really recognizing the lineage of incredible, incredible people who have played Sally before me," she says. "That was my goal. To incorporate those two things as fully as I could with as much bravery as I could."

The story of the musical exists in two different worlds. Inside the Kit Kat Club, where Sally Bowles headlines the seedy and provocative cabaret, and in the boarding house of Fraulein Schneider (played by Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth). After finding little inspiration in Paris, American writer Clifford Bradshaw has traveled to Berlin to work on his book. He meets Sally at the Kit Kat Club and she very quickly moves herself in with him when she has no place else to go. But a true friendship forms as the world begins to unravel around them. 

Tony nominee Ato Blankson-Wood is Cliff, and though he says doing the iconic show is a dream come true, it's not something he ever expected. "Cliff wasn't always on my radar. But there was something about this production, specifically, and the lens they were looking at Cliff through that made me think I can bring something to this," he says. "I wanted to show vulnerability, and strength in this character. I wanted to lean into the flexibility of this love story, right? This is an an unconventional love story between Sally and Cliff. And I feel like we really built something where that's at the center of the show."

Ato Blankson-Wood Michaelah Reynolds

Though the audience has an anchor in Sally and Cliff's love story, it's the secondary love story in Cabaret that really illustrates the dangers of 1930s Berlin and breaks the audience's hearts. Just as Fraulein Schneider has agreed to marry one of her boarders, the charming Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz, their happiness is torn apart when the Nazis shown up.

Steven Skybell, who plays Herr Schultz, sees striking relevancy in the musical for today's audience. "It's very parallel. I mean, it's actually uncanny. Berlin 1930 was a free society that, all of a sudden, was finding a certain conservative clamp coming down on it. And we feel that now, anti-Semitism was on the rise in Germany then, as it is now. Women's reproductive rights were an issue then. And they're a theme in our play as well," Skybell says. "In the mix of all the great entertainment, the message is, 'What would you do if you saw this happening around you? And can one do anything to fight it if one wants to?'"

Composer John Kander recalls those same feelings of relevancy in 1966 when he and Ebb first created the musical. The duo, along with director Hal Prince, sat and talked for weeks about the show before they ever set pen to paper. "When we finally started making it, it was to recreate a world and a period, but also to create a warning to people everywhere. It was right in the middle of the race crisis, and Hal put up backstage a double page spread from Life Magazine about a Black woman entering a white housing complex and he said, 'That's what our show's about.'"

Kander was not able to take in the show in London, but he was able to attend the Broadway production with Joel Grey (Broadway's original Emcee) to celebrate Grey's birthday. "It's like no experience in the theatre I've ever had before," he says. "And I'm trying to describe it to people and then I realized I can't...except it's sort of like walking into a circus."

Below, see photos from Cabaret's opening night red carpet, including RuPaul's Drag Race cast members Jackie Cox, Peppermint, Alexis Michelle and Willam.

Photos: Cabaret Opens on Broadway

The cast of Cabaret also includes Natascia Diaz as Fraulein Kost and Fritzie; and Henry Gottfried (Waitress) as Ernst Ludwig. The ensemble is rounded out by Marty Lauter (AKA Marcia Marcia Marcia of RuPaul's Drag Race season 15) as Victor, Gabi Campo as Frenchie, Ayla Ciccone-Burton as Helga, Colin Cunliffe as Hans, Loren Lester as Herman/Max, David Merino as Lulu, Julian Ramos as Bobby, MiMi Scardulla as Texas, and Paige Smallwood as Rosie. Swings include Hannah Florence, Pedro Garza, Christian Kidd, Chloé Nadon-Enriquez, Corinne Munsch, and Karl Skyler Urban.

The Broadway prologue company comprises dancers Alaïa, Iron Bryan, Will Ervin Jr., Sun Kim, and Deja McNair. The musicians include Brian Russell Carey on piano and bass, Francesca Dawis on violin, Maeve Stier on accordion, and Michael Winograd on clarinet. Rounding out the company are dancer swings Ida Saki and Spencer James Weidie, and dedicated substitute musician Keiji Ishiguri.

The Broadway transfer is being produced by Ambassador Theatre Group Productions, Underbelly, Gavin Kalin Productions, Hunter Arnold, Smith & Brant Theatricals, and Wessex Grove.

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