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I've Seen My Favorite Musical on Broadway 4 Times—and This Was By *Far* the Best Version

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cabaret broadway cast
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As a former actor (and lifelong theater nerd), my list of favorite musicals features some seriously stiff competition. I’m talking Gypsy. I’m talking Little Shop. I’m talking Music Man (I know, I know…). But sitting atop the list is a musical that I’ve not only performed in, but one that I’ve seen on Broadway four separate times: the incomparable Cabaret.

In my humble opinion, the show is the closest thing to perfection out there. The music is at once catchy, fun, haunting and subversive. The script is smart, subtle and moving. The characters are iconic (even non-theater nerds have likely heard the name Sally Bowles).

Fans of Cabaret perhaps think of the Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli version. Others may have seen Alan Cumming’s genius reinvention of the Emcee on Broadway starting in 1998 (I saw that production during its original iteration and its subsequent return to Broadway three times). But now, there is a new version in town—and I absolutely loved it. In fact, this latest production was my favorite viewing of the musical yet.

For this newest version of Cabaret, which originated across the pond, Eddie Redmayne tackles the role of the Emcee with Gayle Rankin and Bebe Neuwirth in the roles of Sally and Fraulein Schneider, respectively. While Redmayne’s voice is far from stellar, he puts a fabulous and unique spin on the character, unlike any performance of it I’ve ever seen. The Emcee is somehow simultaneously sexy and clownish and downright terrifying (just wait for that black ensemble with the crazy gloves).

But it is Rankin’s Sally that really makes the Tony nominated production a must-see. She plays the cabaret singer as bombastic and borderline grotesque. These in-your-face explosions are jarring, but they make Sally all the more human when they fall away for truly raw and vulnerable scenes and songs. Unlike previous iterations of the character where Sally is putting on an everything-is-always-wonderful façade, this Sally is much more honest, leading to very powerful and beautiful moments. Neuwirth similarly brings a deep honesty to her role, though in a far more subtle manner.

Beyond the inspired performances and “different” takes on the characters, the production succeeds in appearing simple and pared down, when in reality it is anything but. In fact, the entire theater has been remodeled so that before the show starts, you can walk around a fully immersive Kit Kat Club with live performers strumming instruments and dancing and with Champagne flowing from bottles in a number of fabulously transportive bars. (I recommend arriving at least an hour before curtain so you can enjoy all that the pre-show has to offer.)

And the usual proscenium stage itself has been removed so that audience members surround a simple, round stage (intentionally a la the circus). The contrast between the celebratory pre-show and the tragedy that unfolds in the center ring is stark—and extremely moving.

No doubt some fans of Cabaret will disagree with my assessment of the production as the superior one. But whether it becomes your favorite version or not, it is an absolutely beautiful piece of theater that is a must for frequent theatergoers and visitors to the Big Apple alike.

Cabaret is now playing at the Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson Theatre.

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VP, News and Entertainment; Royal Family Stan; Netflix Aficionado; Entertainment Podcast Host; Better-Than-Average Bowler

Philip spearheads PureWow's news and entertainment team. He has 10+ years experience working in entertainment coverage and viral media, previously serving as a writer/editor...