Last week, Roundabout announced a part of their 2013-2014 season: a revival of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, starring – and we were just as shocked as you were – Alan Cumming. Yep, the same nightcrawling, spice managing, currently knife hallucinating, Alan Cumming who rose to fame by baring his behind and earning himself a Tony Award in the process in another Roundabout production back in 1998. Wait – make that another Roundabout production of the very same show set to be revived next season. Alan Cumming as the Emcee: Take Two.
Back in ’98, Sam Mendes revival of Kander and Ebb’s brilliant take on the appeal of Nazism in antebellum Germany was truly revolutionary. Mendes stripped away the Broadway gloss, leaving an (oft-naked) grimy Weimar veneer which barely couched the menace brewing underneath. Instead of Liza’s confused Sally, Natasha Richardson portrayed an overly confident yet overly self-conscious Bowles whose decided ignorance primed her to turn a blind eye to the politics caving in. The ending of the show saw the cabaret performers at their logical conclusion – sad inmates in a concentration camp. 3 years before 9/11, this Cabaret brought with it a very 21st century fatalism, allowing the piece to speak beyond its Broadway vamps and gender-bending turns.
But what would compel Cumming to return to the very same role which earned him his only Tony (as well as Drama Desk) award? His current turn as Shakespeare’s looniest and most haunted regicide is earning him – if not the entire show – positive reviews, and he certainly doesn’t need further publicity as far as crafting his own Hollywood-character-actor star goes. And then there’s the sad case of the 1987 Broadway revival of Cabaret starring that original German spook, Joel Grey. The production ran for less than a year but still managed to earn Tony nominations for most of its major players… except for Grey. Is there really anything fulfilling in reprising the role which you have come to define? What joy can one get out of climbing Mount Everest for a second time?
You know what would just be the seasoning on the Wienerschnitzel? If one of today’s leading Broadway boys were to tackle the role head-on, replete with the signature charm, menace and sexual ambiguity already embodied to perfection by both Grey and Cumming. Who wouldn’t love to see Andrew Keenan-Bolger transform himself under the cabaret headlights? Or the current hunk of the great white way, Colin Donnell? Hell, even Adam Chandler Berat would be fascinating! Anyone, anything – just give us something new!
Roundabout has still to announce the director of the piece, so there’s still hope that Cumming’s original portrayal will serve not as a template, but as fodder for re-appropriation. A musical theatre geek can dream right? In the meantime, I’m going to pray to the Broadway gods that the rumour of an Anne Hathaway Sally Bowles are definitely false. The last thing the theatre needs are two already overly exposed actors trying to feed off a fame which should have remained buried in the annals of visionary Broadway revivals.