For many, many years, I have held one piece of theater deep in my heart and without a nanno-second of hesitation, if asked, I will tell you that Cabaret is my absolute favorite. No, I did not see the first performances on Broadway when it opened in 1966. Joel Grey was in that show and made history as the Emcee to end all Emcee's. I did not get on the Cabaret jag until I saw the 1972 film version for the first time. Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli were THRILLING in their roles. She was, and always will be, Sally Bowles and Joel Grey nailed that role, holy cow, did he ever.
Michael York was a new-comer in that film and he, in the Clifford Bradshaw (as an Englishman) role, was magnificent. His adorable face and his sexy voice left me very much in love with him and wanting to hit Sally in the head for dumping this beautiful and innocent man who showed her unconditional love. Shame on you, Sally.
Way back there in the late nineties, the show came back to town and found a home at a theater that was re-named "Studio 54", a perfect venue in that it allowed part of the audience to sit at tables, as if in the Kit Kat Klub. When my big night came, it was wonderful. The make up, costumes, sets and performers were spot on. The ticket prices, which ranged between $2.85 and a whopping $7.50 in 1965, were considerably higher. All the elements were in place and we hardly, understand that I am not saying that lightly, missed Joel Grey. We had us a new Sally. In fact, we had a host of Sallies, but the one I saw was a very, very good bad-girl. The Kit Kat Klub was perfectly portrayed and cabaret life was beautiful...."the girls" were beautiful. We got the feeling that the world outside this cabaret was not beautiful. Even though we knew the Third Reich was very, very close, we genuinely got the feeling that we were safe and everyone in our cabaret had the right to do whatever they desperately wanted, with "desperate" being the operative word. Germany was, after all, falling apart at the seams and Hitler was beginning his charismatic crusade. Those inside the cabaret did not know that tomorrow did not really belong to them. The theater was working her magic and I was totally embraced by her powerful arms. The final scene, when the cruel reality of the rise of Hitler makes itself understood, left me speechless and and indelible mark found its way to my brain.
Fast forward if you will, to last Saturday night and find me again in a seat at Studio 54, next to one of my two best pals, another Cabaret devotee. We were psyched and ready for what we were sure would be the best performance in history. Our two seats, not in the orchestra, now cost almost as much as a year of my high school tuition without exaggeration. So, how was it? Not as great as we had anticipated. While Allan Cumming did deliver, brilliantly, he seemed a tad bit bored with his job. He played almost entirely to the orchestra seats (I know, they were supposed to be "in" the Kit Kat Klub but. hello, we're here). Maybe I expected too much, but, other than his presence on the stage, I felt that this was an amateur production, that the Kit Kat girls were at best pre-professionals, and Bill Heck was a poor excuse for the love interest of the biggest disappointment, Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles. She totally lacked whatever it took to convince me that she was the best choice for the role. I'm not a theater critic by any stretch of the imagination but I did find my thoughts matching what I later read. The thought "dressed for the prom" was validated by more than one report, leaving me to question over and over why such a major role should be handed over to an actor for a Broadway debut. Seriously?
I recently heard that - don't faint if you love New York as I do - the Broadway show might become extinct. It's so hard to believe but, as I looked back at the original scenes, even at the revivals, I note that there were so many more cast members, giving each production number amazing clout. It was less costly. Seats were affordable. Salaries were lower. People were more relaxed. Expectations were lower. We left our troubles and disappointments outside. Inside, it was beautiful. Life was a Cabaret.