After a 10-year absence, Cabaret has returned to Broadway and Studio 54. In many ways, it feels as though it never left. It’s more of a rehashing than a revival. Director Sam Mendes and co-director and choreographer Rob Marshall have returned to give us everything that made the original Roundabout production a long-running hit. The sex-drenched Kit Kat Klub, with its scantily clad performers and red-shaded boudoir lamps scattered among the audience, has hardly changed a stitch. Fortunately, Alan Cumming, too, has returned (and hardly changed), treating us to another dose of the irascible, irrepressible Emcee he first reinvented over 20 years ago in London.
One fresh face, never before seen on Broadway, does offer a few surprises. Michelle Williams, who impresses as Sally Bowles, hits all the notes and even displays an unexpected capacity for desperation and abandon in two of her musical numbers. In her films, Williams most often brings frailty and earnestness to her roles, and her Sally is no exception. But what’s needed, and what goes missing, is much of the cabaret darling’s willful self-delusion.
Aside from Cumming, there are two other reasons to revisit Weimar Berlin. Linda Emond, as Fraulein Schneider, and Danny Burstein, as Herr Schultz, provide a center of gravity for what is otherwise a dizzying circus of anarchic debauchery. If there is any regret, it’s that Emond and Burstein aren’t given more stage time and more music with which to charm us. Both embody the sort of grace that, even when rehashed, never grows old.