Throughout its countless incarnations on Broadway and the Liza Minnelli-starring movie that took home eight Academy Awards, John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff’s “Cabaret” has often shuffled up its style, staging, songs and shock value. But no matter how many incarnations come along, the underlying substance remains a priority and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s latest revival under director Sam Mendes and co-director/choreographer Rob Marshall (based off 1998’s four time Tony Award winner) is no exception.
While it’s far from an all ages show given some risqué displays, older folks who follow the exotic plunge all the way to the end will see much more behind the “Cabaret” curtain than they ever imagined, all carried by a firecracker cast whose mastery of the enduring material more than speaks for itself.
Sure, the touring edition packs all the outrageous aspects of the gender bending Kit Kat Klub (and certainly a few more than previous generations), but beneath the swinging razzle-dazzle, there’s also a sobering picture of Berlin (circa 1929-1930) in the midst of political upheaval. At first, it might not seem like there’s any reason for alarm as the Emcee (the boisterous Randy Harrison), Sally (the charismatic Andrea Goss) and their partners in performance (both musically and sexually) live it up into the wee hours, but when American writer Clifford (the purposefully cautious Lee Aaron Rosen) comes to town, he begins to peel back the layers on the emerging Nazi movement.
Long before that chilling realization, it’s simply business as usual as various girls and boys (or a girl and a boy and a boy dressed as a girl) fall for one another during the “Cabaret” act, but when Sally breaks up with her boyfriend/boss and starts living with the bisexual Clifford, things become a lot more complicated. No, it doesn’t have to do with anyone’s private preferences, but rather, an unplanned pregnancy that occurs in tandem with a doomed engagement between the couple’s German landlord Fraulein Schneider (the no nonsense Shannon Cochran) and her fruit store owning German/Jewish suitor Herr Schultz (the gentlemanly Mark Nelson).
At the latter’s party, a guest casually unveils a swastika armband, and when he learns of the future groom’s heritage, emotions of every imaginable nature boil over (including a gang attack on Clifford for voicing his disgust). Soon after, bricks start getting thrown through Schultz’s shop window, Clifford plots a return home and Sally resumes working at the Klub, offering a mournful version of the otherwise vivacious “Cabaret” on the brink of a personal crossroads and perhaps finally her realization that Berlin will never be the same.
The musical ends on a somber but nonetheless gripping note as carefree nightlife is briskly replaced by the bitter chill of a toxic political reality. While it’s far from an all ages show given some risqué displays, older folks who follow the exotic plunge all the way to the end will see much more behind the “Cabaret” curtain than they ever imagined, all carried by a firecracker cast whose mastery of the enduring material more than speaks for itself.