From "Goodbye to Berlin" to I Am a Camera, A History of Cabaret's Journey to the Stage

By Robert Simonson
11 Apr 2014

Alan Cumming as The Emcee

The show opened Nov. 20, 1966, and was a hit, with reviewers praising the dichotomy of styles on display. "It is the glory of Cabaret," wrote Richard Watts Jr. in the New York Post, “that it can upset you while it gives theatrical satisfaction.” The show played three different theatres and eventually ran 1,165 performances, transforming Grey into a stage star and elevating Kander and Ebb to the first rank of American musical composers. A London staging opened on Feb. 28, 1968, and ran for a year, with Judi Dench playing Sally. A 1972 film adaptation directed by Bob Fosse — which strayed drastically from the plotline of the musical and cut many of its songs, while adding others — was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and won Oscars for Fosse, Grey and Liza Minnelli.

London saw a West End revival in 1986 with Kelly Hunter at Sally, and the year after Broadway took it up again, with Prince again directing and Grey repeating his role as the Emcee. Prince made the character of Cliff bisexual in that rendition, as had originally been the intention in 1966. The production ran less than a year.

It wasn't until 1993 that Cabaret received a real jump start in reputation when rising director Sam Mendes directed a stark new production at the Donmar Warehouse. Mendes' vision was darker still than Prince's had been, and Alan Cumming's Emcee more openly decadent and sexualized. All the instruments in the orchestra were played by members of the on-stage cabaret boys and girls. "I Don't Care Much," which was cut from the original production, was reinstated, and "Money," "Mein Herr" and "Maybe This Time," now familiar tunes to the public who had seen the film adaptation, were added to the score.

Perhaps most dramatically different was the ending, during which the Emcee stripped off his outer clothes to reveal underneath the striped outfit of a concentration camp prisoner. Other characters did the same, all bearing symbols like yellow badges and pink triangles that identified them as members of groups of people that were demonized and victimized by the Nazis.

The show was such a critical and popular smash that it was brought to Broadway, under the dual direction of Mendes and Rob Marshall. Masteroff brought the staging to the attention of Todd Haimes, the artistic director of the Roundabout Theatre. "I knew Todd Haimes very well because he had produced She Loves Me," said Masteroff, "and I told him he ought to do this terrific show, and he agreed."

Cumming repeated his performance; joining him were Natasha Richardson as Sally, John Benjamin Hickey as Cliff, Ron Rifkin as Herr Schultz, Michele Pawk at Fraulein Kost and Mary Louise Wilson as Fraulein Schneider.

The Roundabout Theatre Company transformed the defunct former Broadway house, Henry Miller's Theatre, into the Kit Kat Klub, to house the show. Reviews were excellent and Cabaret became a sellout smash. The show's life was almost cut short, however, when an accident during the construction of the nearby Millennium Hotel caused damage to the theatre. The Roundabout quickly moved the production to another unlikely location: the former home of Studio 54, the legendary disco-age club on W. 54th Street.

There it stayed for the rest of its 2,377-performance run. And there it again plays today.

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Michelle Williams, Alan Cumming and cast
Photo by Joan Marcus