It has actually been something of a challenge to report in a timely fashion on the state of replacements in the smash hit revival/reconception of "Cabaret"no sooner did one important cast member enter than another left; attend a performance to catch the new "name value" Sally Bowles and find yourself watching the standby Linda Romoffwho does a very good job in the role indeed, but helps the critics task not at all (save for his ability to assure the reader that if Ms. Romoff is on that night, youre still in good handsconsider it done, by the way).
But finally, with a new cast installed, I did well enough not to press my luck. This despite the fact that within days (by August 8th), the pleasantly bland Cliff of Boyd Gaines will be replaced by the yet-to-be assessed Cliff of Michael Hayden; and that the night I attended, the new Herr Schultz, Laurence Luckinbill, was out, and his standby, Scott Robertson, was on. Ill talk about Robertson in a minute and Ill try to augment this report with info on Hayden and Luckinbill in the near future. But for now
The first and most important thing to note is that, production-wise, and in terms of its overall impact, "Cabaret" is still in terrific shape. Newcomers to the production will experience no letdown, nor have reason to think theyre not being taken care of as well as audiences who saw the production when it was newer. As for the individual human components
There couldnt be a more informative object lesson in casting and replacing than the current contrast between the new Sally Bowles and the new Emcee.
The new Sally is simply the best yet, Susan Egan. This pixie-pretty young woman is at least as good an actress as the roles creator (for this production), Natasha Richardson; and as a musical theatre veteran, Egans musicality is miles beyond the sort of "let me act my way through it" choices that the musically raw Ms. Richardsons hard wiring necessitated she make. Even more impressively, because Ms. Egan is so accomplished a vocalist, she has an easier time of the productions unspoken conceit: that in real life, Sally isnt much of a singer (else she wouldnt be in this dive)just an unusually charismatic lost soul. Egan has control over the conceitshe knows when it works to her advantage and she has the technique to unobtrusively release it when she needs to go for "the kill." The kind of Disneyesque wholesomeness of her face (she was Broadways first Belle, remember), mixed with her matching natural exuberance, makes Sally Bowles self-imposed exile in Nazi Germany even funnier, sadder and more heartbreaking than before. As if she embodies the ultimate corruption of girl-next-door innocence.
It pays to note here, too, how expansive the role is: because Sally is, perversely, innocent (naïve at least), as well as delightful, seductive and free-spirited, the character is open to many interpretations. I like Ms. Egan better than Ms. Richardson, but they couldnt be more different from each other and each represents a perfectly valid way to go. Add standby Linda Romoff and the last Sally, Mary McCormack, to the list (I missed Jennifer Jason Leigh) and you have four distinct approaches. Include the road companys Teri Hatcher and you have fiveand counting
The emcee is altogether different. Its a very unforgiving role in many ways because its the virtual iconography of the shows style. Thats why both Joel Grey, in the original Hal Prince production, and Alan Cumming, in this revival, left such indelible marks. And so much of that style absorbs the quirky persona of the original performer as the production takes shape that its impossible to own the role after that first performer is done with it. It took director Sam Mendes to re-conceive the role, and the play, before anyone could step out of Joel Greys shadow. (Check the British revival album starring Wayne Sleep sometime. His is a virtual [and lesser] echo of Joel Greys performance, and the liner notes themselves pause to acknowledge Grey.) And now Cumming has broken the mold: his snaky, pre-punk bisexual made his naughty revelry as unsettling as it was compelling. The interaction of role and performer was like that of any chemical composition: without the specific formula, it wouldnt be as potent.
And so it is with Michael Hall. There are some external differences that youd think would weigh in his favor: Whereas the sinewy Mr. Cumming gave the deceptive impression of emaciation, Mr. Hall is well-muscled, his gym membership fully apparent. And whereas Mr. Cumming was unnerving, Mr. Hall affects pop-eyed, pursed lip mischievousness, as if to say, "I cant believe Im doing all this stuffand you know you love it." But its not enough to set him apart. Beyond those distinctions, Mr. Hall seems lost in the role, or the role doesnt seem to have found him. With the exception of a few notable moments (the haunting "I Dont Care Much" for one) hes constantly losing the battle to the after-image left by his predecessor. It also doesnt help that he palpably works harder to less effect. The briskly choreographed "The Money Song" leaves him out of sufficient breath to really put forth the patter lyrics (the sound designer might also reconfigure the mix for Mr. Halls specifications) and much of the choreography designed around Alan Cummings physicality seems a bad match for Mr. Hall (ideally that too should be tailored to a better fit).
Its hard to be wholly objective about Mr. Hall, because, audience-wise, newcomers to the production take to him well enough (its prudent to remember that those of us who are veteran viewers are inured to the productions shock value; whereas for novice viewers, its all a discovery). Or at least the applause acknowledges him warmly. But from my jaded perspective, he simply filled a vacant slot, as dutifully as he was able.
As Fraulein Schneider, Carole Shelley 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. (Personally, I do miss the unvarnished authenticity of Blair Brown, who had the role last and was a revelationnot only because that previously non-musical actress could sell it so well and so stylishly, but because, even in older middle age, she remains genuinely, obviously sexy: a color the role rarely has. But that is merely a personal preference and a Johnny-come-lately reminiscence of a bygone turn. Ms. Shelley, in her way, isas nearly alwaysmagnificent. May she live, and work, forever.)
The revelation of the evening, this time around for me, was her opposite number, Scott Robertson, standing by for Laurence Luckinbill, as Herr Schultz. Robertson is one of those ubiquitous players who always works, less because he is exceptional than because he is good-natured, reliable and professional but with this roleand perhaps whatever maturity and richness added years add to a working actors lifehes transcendent. As the lonely fruiterer who woos Fraulein Schneider, he brings a gentleness of spirit, and a soaring sweetness of voice to the role that breaks your heart even as it makes you smile. It may well be Scotty's finest hour, and those of you who catch him can count yourselves terribly lucky indeed.
As Fraulein Kost, the boarding houses resident prostitute, Victoria Clark (late of "Titanic") made a more lasting impression on me than her predecessor, Michele Pawk. Wheras for me, Pawk merely filled the role well, in the manner of a leading woman (which she is) gone to seed (which she hasnt), Ms. Clarka character actressbrings her expert comic timing to bear, sharpening the point of view, and adding ache to the bitter emptiness of the characters life.
Michael Stuhlbarg has replaced the inspired Denis OHare as Ernst Ludwig, the obsequious German smuggler who befriends Cliff. In a much milder way, Stulbarg seems in the same boat as Mr. Hall. Either through a lack of personal innovation or the insistence of the director, Stuhlbarg is very much following the OHare template. By comparison he suffers. But even on its own terms, the performance seems merely an approximation of something that should be better. Whereas Mr. Robertson, a standby, is stellar, Mr. Stuhlbarg, the regular, seems to be giving "the understudy performance." (That said, he seems an able fellow, and I dont discount the possibility that hell grow more fully into the role, in time.)
All in all, then, theres still good reason to come to the cabaret. Oh, and as for the new space, Studio 54: it differs from the Kit Kat Klub in that it is a little wider, and that the worn velvet wallpaper is gone, and that theres no hallway with sticky rubber floors leading to the restrooms, which, along with the concession stands, can be found in a fairly spacious upper lobby.
Other than that, the ambience of decadence hasn't suffered much at all...
Go to David Spencer's Bio
Return to Home Page