Welcome back to the Kit Kat Klub
Just in time for the show’s 50th anniversary, a revival of the dazzling Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall reinvention of “Cabaret” lands at the San Diego Civic Theatre next week. New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company took a big chance in 1998 when it staged this thrilling, immersive revival of the 1966 Kander and Ebb show set in decadent Weimar-era Berlin.
A film version of the Tony-winning original with the iconic Joel Grey as the seductive Emcee at the Kit Kat Klub had long been seared into the popular imagination. Directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, the 1972 film garnered eight Oscars, including awards for Grey, reprising his Broadway role, and Liza Minnelli as the irrepressible, pleasure-seeking, if none-too-talented entertainer Sally Bowles.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday; 7 p.m. Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25; 8 p.m. Aug. 26; 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 27; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 28. Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtownTickets: $22-$98Phone: (619/760/858) 570-1100 Online: broadwaysd.com
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday; 7 p.m. Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25; 8 p.m. Aug. 26; 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 27; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 28.
Where: San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave., downtown
Phone: (619/760/858) 570-1100
The Roundabout’s gamble paid off, and the 1998 stage revival — with its seedy club complete with lamp-lit cabaret tables, its Fosse-replacing choreography by Marshall, and its slinky-sleazy star-making turn by Alan Cumming as the dissolute Emcee — ran for 1,200 performances and won seven Tonys, including Best Musical Revival.
Cumming reprised his part in the Roundabout’s 2014 Broadway revival of its own revival — and what San Diegans will see next week is a first-run tour version of that production.
Andrea Goss, who understudied the part for a year on Broadway, stars as Sally Bowles, and Randy Harrison plays the provocative, polymorphously perverse Emcee.
Four months into the tour, Goss said that with encouragement from the show’s creative team, she has definitely made the role of Sally Bowles her own — a tall order given her predecessors, who include Minnelli, Natasha Richardson and Judi Dench.
From Costa Mesa, where “Cabaret” had just settled in for a two-week run at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Goss said by phone: “I read the (Christopher) Isherwood novel it’s based on, and tried to look at where Sally’s coming from. In reality, she’s 19 years old and she’s just playing this part of a grown-up. At the end of the day, she’s this scared child, living in a world that she doesn’t understand.”
Though Goss has a powerful musical theater voice, she acknowledged that she is “shorter, more petite, and I do come off younger” than most others cast in the role. “But when I read all these little snippets in the book, I saw Sally’s not just performing onstage at the club, she has to perform in everyday life. She’s covering her fears and insecurities.”
Goss was cast as the Kit Kat girl Frenchie and the comical gorilla while also understudying the lead in the 2014-15 Broadway revival. She went on many times for three successive Sallys — actors Michelle Williams, Emma Stone and Sienna Miller.
“All three of those women brought something different and wonderful to the part. I just want to tell the story the best I can for me. I’m grateful to the creative team for allowing the show to breathe and the artists to bring individuality instead of fitting into a mold.”
The tour’s Emcee, Harrison, has had a widely diverse stage career that began in musical theater, though he’s still best known for his five years playing a young gay artist on the Showtime TV show “Queer as Folk.”
He’s never done a big national tour such as this, and he said the first four months were the toughest — all one-week stands in the Northeast during a freezing dead of winter. “So there are sacrifices, but it’s an amazing show to be able to perform, because depending upon what’s happening in national politics every day and in the different cities, the audience reactions are very different and very specific,” he said.
“We were in Iowa right after the caucuses, and that was one kind of reaction, and in a big union town like Pittsburgh, they react to other things. The South has been different from San Francisco.”
Like Goss, the amiable Harrison doesn’t feel intimidated by the big names who have preceded him in his role.
“Honestly, I feel like it is a gift that so many great actors have played the part. I am not one of those actors who is in danger of imitating. ... I found it liberating — the diversity of the takes and how different they can be. There’s this firm structure in place, this vessel, but then you fill it, and the more you fill it with yourself, including your own sexuality, the better.
One of the more rewarding elements of the role, he said, was that “so much of it is improvisatory. I react to opportunities to be different depending on what the Kit Kat Klub boys and girls give me on different nights, plus I’m very open to what the audience is giving me and not giving me.”
With songs like the opening “Willkommen” and the very naughty “Two Ladies,” he said, “a huge part of my job is to break down that fourth wall and react to the audience. In the opening I ask, ‘Do you feel good?’ and I wait for a response. Every city, every night is different. Some are quiet and I have to encourage them. Others are loud and responsive.”
Harrison expressed gratitude for the “amazing teacher and choreographer” — Rob Marshall’s assistant Cynthia Onrubia, who coached him in the role.
“This production of ‘Cabaret’ is just so smart in evoking this world and making the audience care. It’s a great role and a great production, and for me it’s a privilege to be performing in it.”
Welsh is a freelance writer.