(The New Cast, 2002)

Book by Joe Masteroff
Music by John Kander
Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Based on the play "I Am a Camera" by John Van Druten
and "Berlin Stories" by Christopher Isherwood
Choreographed and Co-Directed by Rob Marshall
Directed by Sam Mendes
Studio 54 /54th Street Between 8th Avenue and Broadway

Reviewed by David Spencer

The most important news first: If you haven’t yet seen this revival of "Cabaret", now in its fourth year on Broadway, it is still in remarkably, almost miraculously good shape. And if you plan a revisit–now would be a great time.

As the production has been reviewed elsewhere in these cyber-pages [link here], I’ll skip the plot and descriptive particulars and get right to the business at hand: the new cast.

Molly Ringwald is a very credible Sally Bowles. You don’t think of her as a stage actress (though she clearly is) nor as a singer (and she clearly isn’t really, but she can carry a tune with assurance and more than a little musicality), but she sells the role and more than earns the increased ticket sales her name has added to the kitty. In retrospect, I can’t say that she adds a particular depth to the role, but there is, in her interpretation, a bright enthusiasm that sells just about every important dramatic and musical aspect. Her accent is believably British too.

The center of the production, though, is Raúl Esparza’s emcee. As has been proven by other replacement emcees, this is a nearly impossible role to take over, as it is so linked to the persona and tics of its creator, Alan Cumming (just as, in the original Broadway production, the emcee was built upon the equally idiosyncratic and hard-to-replace Joel Grey). But Esparza has made a home in his "cage": he hasn’t eschewed the outer Cumming trappings (you sort of can’t) but he has cannily rebuilt the role from within. Whereas Cumming was slyly depraved and sweetly unsettling, Mr. Esparza is a savagely self-aware showman, who knows that every gesture sends a message–and clearly wants to be sure you know he knows it too. For charisma and the ability to be the show’s glue, Esparza is a match for Mr. Cumming…and for musicality and musical theatre savvy…he’s even sharper. I’m not saying it’s a better interpretation for that–but I am saying it’s unequivocally on par.

Carole Shelly remains, as she has since 1999, installed as Fraulein Schneider and I’ll just repeat what I wrote then: [She] once again proves her mettle as one of the great old (well, middle aged) pros of the profession. As the owner and operator of the boarding house Cliff moves into, she knows how to make all the points land with elan and heart.

The new Herr Schultz–the lonely Jewish fruiterer who woos Fraulein Schneider–is Larry Keith, likewise a terrific old pro, with an unerring sense of the role’s ethicity, timing and, above all, its understated passion. And he sings with a sweet tenor vibrato that is so touchingly old fashioned as to be perfectly in period–and of the character’s generation.

As to the others: Matthew Greer’s Clifford Bradshaw (the young American writer who gets involved with Sally) is effective in a Clark Kent-ish sort of way; Peter Benson’s Ernst Ludwig (the obsequious German smuggler who befriends Cliff) seems to have recaptured the subtle menace of the role as created by Denis O’Hare (without standing too much in Mr. O’Hare’s short but formidable shadow); and Candy Buckley’s Fraulein Kost–a hooker and Nazi sympathizer who is one of Fraulein Schneider’s borders–has a nicely ribald comic edge.

There’s still good reason to come to the cabaret, old chum…

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