Corrections or additions?
These reviews by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
May 13, 1998. All rights reserved.
Broadway Review: `Cabaret’
The "Wilkommen" mat is out again for the 1966
Tony Award-winning musical "Cabaret" that composers Kander
and Ebb, with writer Joe Masteroff, based on both the play "I
Am a Camera" by John van Druten, and Christopher Isherwood’s "Berlin
Stories." However, this time the mat is placed at the entrance
to the Kit Kat Klub, a decadent cabaret that has been designed to
evoke the atmosphere of Weimar Berlin, the musical’s setting. Here
you enter the former Henry Millers Theater, sit at a table or at a
banquette, consume food and drink, and let yourself be considered
a part of — and thus party to — director Sam Mendes’ fantasy.
Even if you think you already know that "life is a cabaret,"
you don’t know anything until you enter this awesomely fabricated
world that boldly considers, in musical and dramatic terms, the mystique
and the mystery of Hitler’s rise to power. An enveloping vision of
Hell and hedonism prevails in the provocative Donmar Warehouse staging,
newly revised for this Roundabout production. For those who want a
taste of unrefined decadence, without having to personally swallow
it, Mendes, Donmar’s artistic director, has put the show’s political
metaphors in raw relief. In this version, some songs from the 1972
film are included, and some from the original Broadway show excluded.
But raunchy is as raunchy does in such newly debauched favorites as
"Don’t Tell Mama," "Two Ladies," and "Money."
Mendes’ darkly expressionistic vision to have the plot become an intrinsic
part of the cabaret show rather than have the cabaret numbers as part
of the plot works extraordinarily well. Be prepared for a surfeit
of in-your-face vulgarity. Even so, the musical’s funny and chilling
satiric numbers are brilliantly invigorated by choreographer and co-director
Rob Marshall, who has put a luridly expressionistic spin on the dances.
A shocking new attitude comes with the mesmerizing performance of
Alan Cumming, as the unctuous, leering, asexual master of ceremonies.
This devilish imp with a serious drug problem worms his way through
the plot with the same dominating power he brings to the show’s oh-so-naughty
numbers. The bevy of not-so-beautiful but terrifically seedy Kit Kat
Klub showgirls owe a lot to designer William Ivey Long’s titillating,
tattered costumes. Not to be overlooked are the dragged-out and drugged-up
musicians, characters all.
Mendes has undoubtedly set out to make the musical’s milieu stand
in as much relief as does its mordant story about the liaison between
a bisexual writer, and a loose chanteuse. It is no easy task for an
actor to reinvent Sally Bowles after Liza Minnelli’s rather definitive
go at it. Natasha Richardson is a gifted actor and she is certainly
beautiful. Unfortunately, the out-sized dynamics of her performance
do not help us believe for a moment that she is Sally, the pathetic
and deluded loser. Despite her occasional attempts to validate Sally’s
perversities and eccentricities, Richardson presents us with a Sally
who resembles not so much the ruined, no-talent Brit wasting away
in a tacky Berlin nightclub as she does a runaway Wimbledon tennis
pro on holiday.
Except for Denis O’Hare, as Clifford’s Nazi friend Ernst Ludwig, who
affects a sort of sit-com German accent, there are fine, if accentless
portrayals by Mary Louise Wilson, as the landlady Fraulein Schneider,
and Ron Rifkin, as her Jewish beau Herr Schultz. John Benjamin Hickey
is good enough in the role of Clifford, the writer, based on Isherwood,
and altered to emphasize Clifford’s homosexuality. Despite Clifford’s
intimacy with Sally, there are no sexual sparks in either Hickey’s
or Richardson’s performances that help us understand their attraction
to each other. The performance with most impact comes from Michelle
Pawk who, as Fraulein Kost, the boarding house prostitute, defines
the grimness and desperation of the times as artfully as Robert Brill’s
chilling set. HHH
124 West 43 Street, New York, 212-719-1300. $50 to $75.
Back in 1952, Frederick Knott wrote a super thriller
called "Dial M for Murder." Fourteen years later he wrote
a stupid thriller called "Wait Until Dark." Guess which one
is being revived on Broadway?
You may need reviving after a few minutes of this stultifying time-waster.
Notwithstanding the dopey premise and the play’s puerile plotline,
it is this production’s commitment to bad acting, amateurish staging,
and tacky special effects that makes you think that perhaps the whole
impenetrable mess would look better performed in the dark. Yet with
the names Quentin Tarantino and Marisa Tomei on the marquee, the show’s
Some of you remember the superb Lee Remick in the much slicker original
1966 Broadway production. You may have also seen the awful movie version
starring Audrey Hepburn. Now it’s Marisa Tomei’s turn to be miscast
and misdirected (this time by Leonard Foglia) in a way that serves
to undermine the incredulous, yet vulnerable, behavior of her character.
Tomei, an otherwise excellent actor, makes her Broadway debut as the
resourceful blind woman who outwits three witless, tough-talking thugs
who invade her apartment to find a $1 million stash of heroin that
has been sewn into a doll and hidden in the refrigerator. She’ll survive
For better or worse, Tomei seems less daunted by her character’s inability
to see, than by the boring script that makes its 90-minute duration
seem like three hours. However, Tomei gives us a gutsy New Yawka who,
we don’t doubt for a moment, can outsmart these dumb-as-they-come
intruders. In addition to a nice turn by Imani Parks as Gloria, the
obnoxious little girl who lives in the same building and helps Susy
in her time of need, there are some neatly executed machinations of
Stephen Lang, as an ex-con accomplice who pretends to be Susy’s new
But the audience is mainly there to see quixotic film-director and
film star Quentin Tarantino in the role of Harry Roat, a sadistic
drug thug who is Susy’s chief terrorizor. If Tarantino’s act of vapid
non-acting (in multiple roles and disguises, no less) constitutes
an open act of hostility against the legitimate profession, let it
at least be compared favorably to Madonna’s only slightly more excruciating
New York stage debut in David Mamet’s "Speed the Plow." They
deserve each other. Perhaps someone will suggest Coward’s "Private
Lives" as a vehicle for them next season. H
Street, 212-307-4100. $55 & $60.
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