cabaretBy Manning Harris

The Broadway in Atlanta series is presenting the musical “Cabaret” at the Fox Theatre, running through Nov. 6. The current production is based on New York’s brilliant 1998 Roundabout Theatre Company’s production starring Alan Cumming and the late Natasha Richardson; and that show is the lovechild of London’s Donmar Warehouse West End 1993 revival, directed by Sam Mendes. Rob Marshall co-directed and choreographed the 1998 New York version.

If you’ve only seen the famous 1972 film version with Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey (who both won Oscars), it may come as a shock how deliciously down and dirty and dangerous the live “Cabaret” is. Let me say upfront that the show playing at the Fox is terrific, but leave your small children at home.

And I’d also like to say that Atlanta-raised Randy Harrison (star of the U.S. version of “Queer As Folk”), competing (if you will) with the memory of Joel Grey and Alan Cumming, is astonishing as the Emcee, firmly putting his own stamp on this legendary role. He is leering, sneering, charming, flirting, acts and sings up a storm and virtually never leaves the stage. His Emcee becomes ominous, dangerous, and finally a victim. It is a masterful, unforgettable performance.

You may know that author Christopher Isherwood lived in Berlin during this time, published the short novel “Goodbye to Berlin” in 1939 and “The Berlin Stories” in 1945; “Cabaret” is based on people he knew and events he experienced in 1930 as the Nazis prepare to seize power. In particular the character of Sally Bowles (played extremely well on opening night by Alison Ewing, who understudies Andrea Goss) is based on a British girl he knew who worked in the Kit Kat Klub (the name used in the play).

In brief, a young would-be American novelist named Clifford Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley) rents a room in Fräulein Schneider’s (played and sung superbly by Mary Gordon Murray) house and soon meets Sally. The two become roommates. There are other tenants at Fräulein Schneider’s house and the romantic entanglements become, shall we say, complicated.

Berlin in the 1920’s was the wildest, most decadent city on earth, with all kinds of sexuality, drugs, and “lewd” behavior not only tolerated but encouraged. As the world darkens with the Nazi threat, the Emcee continues to insist that “in here life is beautiful,” meaning the Kit Kat Klub. “Cabaret,” the musical play, shows this rollicking frivolity more than the film, even as it becomes apparent that “the end of the world,” as Clifford later writes, is rapidly approaching.

But you will have a grand time on the way in “Cabaret,” where “even the orchestra is beautiful.” I can’t give you any more plot, but there’s a fine cast, including Scott Robertson, Patrick Vaill, and a stage full of Kit Kat girls and boys. The music is by John Kander, the lyrics by Fred Ebb (the play premiered in 1966—clearly ahead of its time), with BT McNicholl directing and Cynthia Onrubia the co-choreographer.

The show is exhilarating and a little frightening. I concur with star Randy Harrison, who says “Any time discrimination and hate speech and scapegoating of minorities—religious, sexual—are used to motivate political action, this show is relevant.” Enough said.

You know the Fox is really too big for live theatre, but what else is new? It’s the scene of the best and most important entertainment in town.

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Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.