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"Cabaret" Review- Roundabout Theatre Company's Strong Vision of a Great Classic

By Debra Davy

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Broadway in Chicago and Roundabout Theatre Company just closed it’s sold-out run of the musical “Cabaret” at The PrivateBank Theater, 18 W. Monroe. The historic venue, first opened in 1906, has been called by different names and played host to many famous shows and performers, including Harry Houdini and Lily Langtry. Indeed, when it was known as the Shubert, it hosted an earlier version of "Cabaret".  Since the formation of Broadway in Chicago in 2000, the rich tradition of exceptional entertainment has continued. It was also completely rehabbed in 2005-2006 and given a beautiful new interior.  Beginning with this recent production of “Cabaret”, on February 9, 2016, the theatre was transformed with a striking new marquee and signs, and unveiled as The PrivateBank Theatre.

Randy Harrison as The Emcee in the 2016 National Touring Cast of Roundabout Theatre Company's "Cabaret"

Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2016 touring version of the beloved musical “Cabaret”, about life at the end of the Weimar Republic in 1929-1930 Berlin, came to Chicago direct from Broadway, as part of the critically acclaimed and award-winning company’s 50th Anniversary Series. This splendid version of the great musical classic written by Joe Masterhoff with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood, was originally co-directed by Rob Marshall and Sam Mendes and choreographed by Rob Marshall. It stars Randy Harrison as The Emcee, Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles, Shannon Cochran as Fraulein Schneider, Mark Nelson as Herr Schultz and Lee Aaron Rosen as Clifford Bradshaw. Many of the company members play musical instruments as well as dance and sing- there are 20 grandly familiar musical numbers.

The 2016 National Touring Cast of Roundabout Theatre Company's "Cabaret"

This is a dark and even sinister vision of life in a corrupt city in a country already in tatters from a massive failed war, over just 8 years, about to embark on the most vicious effort at world domination and the worst anti-human excesses of any regime in the history of life on this planet. Yet, what Winston Churchill called “the loathsome apparatus of Nazi rule” have not quite been assembled. “Cabaret” shows us a tawdry and tattered entertainment salon- the “Kit Kat Club”, struggling to keep its doors open, yet containing an unlikely hero. “The Emcee”, unabashedly polysexual, and liberal in the extreme, is not fooled by the sentiments expressed in the Nazi propaganda song-he knows tomorrow does NOT belong to him and his kind, yet continues to offer defiant entertainment in the guise of a warm "Wilkommen".

Randy Harrison as The Emcee and the 2016 National Touring Cast of Roundabout Theatre Company's "Cabaret"

Much has been written about the various versions of this play and it’s memorable incarnation as a movie starring Liza Minelli and Joel Grey. Yet this version somehow seems to capture more eloquently the seamy side of the life of these characters and the impending doom of the times and city in which they live. Here, Sally Bowles’ voice and heart are both not big enough - her child and her relationship were obviously never going to make it. Neither was the marriage of Schneider and Schultz. Nor, in fact, was anybody in this script, in all probability. Yet, one comes away with a feeling of pride in the Emcee. In this version he does not simply introduce the girls. He puts his life on the line for what he believes is right- a sentiment worth far more than the aphorism “The show must go on”.

Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles, Randy Harrison as The Emcee, and the 2016 National Touring Cast of Roundabout Theatre Company's "Cabaret"

For more information on this and other great shows - Broadway in Chicago

Sarah Bishop as Helga, Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles and Alison Ewing as Fritz in Roundabout Theatre Company's "Cabaret"

All photos courtesy of Joan Marcus

Published on Feb 29, 2016

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