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For the Cummings and Goings at Studio 54: “Cabaret the Musical” on Broadway

“What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret”

That is exactly what I did this past weekend. I mean who can pass up an opportunity like that? Certainly not me, and certainly not when the music is sung by Alan Cumming and Emma Stone.
It all began way back in 1998, one year before I was to graduate high school. I know I am like a newborn pup.
It was March of 1998 and the musical Cabaret had been revived. Prior to this it had its original Broadway run in 1966 with a revival in 1986. In 1972 there was the movie starring Liza Minnelli, you know Judy Garland’s daughter. Cabaret is based on book, Goodbye to Berlin, by Christopher Isherwood. It was also influenced by John Van Druten’s play, I Am a Camera.
Back then I was not the professional theatergoer I am now. During that time I only had a handful of plays under my belt and definitely no list of shows I had to get to. My path to Cabaret was one of chance.  In 2001 (this revival closed in 2004) my cousin had tickets for some of her family visiting New York City and invited me along. I was going just to go. Ah to think of what I know now and what I knew then. I had no idea the journey I was about to go on, both during that evening, and for the next thirteen years (when I did this math I almost past out).
There were so many things that evening did for me but the very first was open my eyes to this beautiful yet heart wrenching story. On my most recent trip to Studio 54 I was SO surprised how much the very last scene moved me despite my prior knowledge of what would happen. It still choked me up and flooded me with so many emotions. Very, very few shows can do that.
The other thing I learned during my first visit to see Cabaret was that the orchestra could be part of the show and still play a tune to death. Now I have seen this more and more but this was an original idea to me then. Also Studio 54 was transformed into an actual cabaret with tables and little lamps all creating the perfect atmosphere that allows the audience to truly become engulfed into the story. Plus there was the allure of going to the infamous Studio 54. I know it had been some time since the heyday but I liked to still think that it had the ghosts of celebrity past were there.
This would be the first of the two times I saw this musical in 2001. The second time would be staring Raul Esparza as the Emcee and Molly Ringwald as Sally Bowles. This was the first time I would see a Broadway show for the celebrity in it. There was a blizzard that day and my friend and I were the only ones at the stage door. Back then no one knew that Studio 54’s stage door was around the corner. Molly was gracious and soft spoken. She was probably also stunned that anyone was waiting for her considering the brutal weather.
I wasn’t aware then that seeing Raul Esparza would become a central theme in my life. Later on I would see him in a production of Tick Tick Boom, the first play penned by Jonathon Larson who then went on to write RENT ( Today he has a reoccurring role on Law and Order: SVU as district attorney Rafael Barba.
Since then many famous faces have had their chance to take part of this very universal story. A story which shows the beauty and evil in a soon to be Nazi Germany while the main characters are centered around a neighborhood that includes the Kit Kat Club, that puts the cabaret in the Cabaret. I believe this play is unique enough to cross all age, cultural, and gender lines. It is not a particularly happy story but then neither is life. But if you look hard enough you can see the beauty in almost anything and try to learn from the evil around you.
After that 1998-2004 revival of Cabaret it went away quietly into the night. What I realized much later, to my dismay, was that I missed one of the greatest aspects of Cabaret, one Alan Cumming.
I had heard in the years since how incredible he was and that he was the one who really owned the show. Over the last few years I got used to seeing him weekly on The Good Wife. Over and over again I would think if only I had seen him in Cabaret. If ever I wished I had a time machine that was definitely in the top ten. But lucky for me my wish was granted without the use of a genie.
In March of this year Cabaret made its debut as its third revival opened. And who pray tell was announced as the Emcee?? Why my beloved Alan Cumming!!!
I knew instantly my butt needed to be in a seat during his run. Apparently I was not the only one. The show was instantaneously successful once again. So much so that Mr. Cumming extended his performances until the show closes next year. That made me relax because I knew I had some time and I wanted to pick just the right show for my long awaited for experience. 
When it was announced that Emma Stone would be joining the cast later on in the year I decided that I would hold out in order to see her. Emma Stone took over the role of Sally Bowels on November 11, 2014. Her immediate predecessor was Michelle Williams as Stone was unable to begin her run when this reproduction began in March 2014.
By the time I was in my seat last Saturday night it was all I could do to sit still. I got there relatively close to show time so I didn’t have to wait long. Once I saw the orchestra stretching on stage and taking their spots in the balcony I was ready to burst. That’s when I heard the voice that is now on repeat in my head.
I swear to God that the entire first number I was paying such close attention because I swore I was listening to the soundtrack. I have the soundtrack from 1998 so I am quite familiar with the lyrics and sounds pretty much to the point that I could replace any of four characters.
The thing about seeing a legend act in a role they are known for is that they have an ability to play with the audience. I saw a similar connection when I saw Anthony Rapp and Adam Pascal in RENT (the original Mark and Rodger). They can exaggerate their movements; pronounce words differently, all while the audience is egging them on. Every movement, smile, gesture, especially when the spotlight wasn’t on him was perfection. He is one of the most talented and effortless actors I have ever seen. As I think back on it I wish I were going every Saturday to see him. I missed him when he left the scene briefly. Despite the other talented cast members I feel without his presence something is missing. Being in that room with him was such a special experience. And Alan was right I was able to leave all my troubles behind.
Emma was a crowd pleaser. From the moment she stepped on stage all of the hoots and hollering expressed how many people were there just for her. Her first song, Don’t Tell Mama, is probably my favorite off the soundtrack. But she has big shoes to fill, as the late great Natasha Richardson sounds impeccable. The first few notes made me grimace but then she surprised me and herself it seemed with the power of her voice. I am afraid the look she had in her eyes the entire night reminded me of a deer in headlights. She looked terrified. Her singing did improve and when she belted out Mein Herr and Cabaret I was wowed. Her acting was of course her strongest spot her being a performer and all. I am sure; as the run goes on she will get more comfortable on that stage. I have no idea how anybody even does it once. To be fair it was only her fifth day and only her second performance with Alan.
My real bone to pick with Emma derives from a quote she gave the New York Times. “Listening to Natasha Richardson, I realized you could be an actor in a musical and not have the perfect voice I’d heard on cast recordings” ( 
Needless to say this lit me on fire. I happen to think Natasha’s voice is heavenly and is the voice I have come to expect coming from Sally Bowles. But now that I am coming from a less charged place, and having seen Emma’s performance I understand her more. I believe she was referring to how the character is supposed to be imperfect and is not an opera after all. But I still believe in Sally and Natasha’s talent. I am also cutting her a break and saying I now believe in Emma’s too. She is bringing a whole new generation to Cabaret and that is amazing.

In a very six degrees of separation moment I had met Emma’s boyfriend, Andrew Garfield apparently of Spiderman fame, in 2012 during a play that would ironically lead me to another talented actor in this performance of Cabaret. It was 2012 and the show was Death of a Salesman ( with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Andrew Garfield, and one of my faves Linda Emond.
Linda Emond plays Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret and I recognized her instantly. Besides Death of a Salesman she has been in countless television shows including The Good Wife with Alan Cumming. It is like this whole cast is connected in countless ways. It must be fate that we were all there together.
When Death of a Salesman premiered the New York Times review had the following to say:
“Mr. Hoffman, Ms. Emond and Mr. Garfield all bring exacting intelligence and intensity to their performances. They make thought visible, but it’s the thought of actors making choices rather than of characters living in the moment. Their reading of certain lines makes you hear classic dialogue anew but with intellectual annotations. It’s as if they were docents showing us through Loman House, now listed on the Literary Register of Historic Places.”
I feel like if you replace Phillip Seymour Hoffman with Alan Cumming, and Emma Stone with her boyfriend, this statement still holds true. I feel like the Kit Kat Club was real and it isn’t a place in the past. For me it lives very much in the presence of my mind.

When it was time to retreat to the glow of the stage door ( I had a momentary lapse of judgment and panicked. This was the first time, even at this show, where the playbill wasn’t handed out when you walked in. I did not care for that. Apparently it is supposed to relax you and let you focus on the play, but it did the opposite for me. I just kept reminding myself not to forget it when I ran past the crowd to get my prized spot outside.
I needed have worried. It was all passed out as we exited and although the throngs of fans were already outside I managed to get a good enough spot and meet these three enchanting actors. Alan was out first and off to the races. He flew by in a flash but I managed photos and the autography that I craved. I told him how long I had been waiting to see him here and he smiled.
Linda was out right behind him and I had to meet her and tell her what a big fan I am of hers. She was so delighted and her autograph came right after Alan’s.
Lastly it was Ms. Emma’s turn. That’s when all of the flashbulbs exploded and the crowd broke out into a roar. She smiled and seemed pleased to see her fans. She also seemed a bit overwhelmed. While Alan said he would get to everyone and not to shove to avoid incident, she was going through the line much faster and skipping around, she even skipped yours truly- at first. Then something happened that never happens at these tense times- the man in front of me took my playbill and tried to get her attention. I know so precious. I took it back and walked down the line and let’s say ensured she saw my playbill and me. I welcomed her to Broadway and that lit her face up while she replied “thank you”. I was satisfied. What an eventful and successful evening, my second in as many weeks of theater going this month as I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch last week with Michael C. Hall (
What I can’t believe is that Cabaret hasn’t changed. It remains frozen in time and in its glory. Now that is also the last memory I will have of it. That and how extraordinary Alan Cumming is in it. Our meeting will always bring a smile to my face and leave a silent checked mark in my mental bucket list.
If you are going get there before February 1, 2015 if you want to see Emma Stone, but if you are interested in seeing Alan Cumming you have until March 2015 as he is set to exit the show when it closes.
What I do know for sure is that “When I go, I’m going like Elyse.”

For Cabaret:
For Alan Cumming:
For the New York Times Reviews:
For Raul Esparza:


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