It would require a pronounced suspension of disbelief to ever truly mistake the spacious grandeur of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre for the decadent hole-in-the-wall that is meant to be the Kit Kat Klub of 1930s Berlin.
Not to be confused with any other iterations of the 1966 John Kander/Fred Ebb musical, Broadway in Atlanta’s current presentation of the national touring company version of “Cabaret” is specifically based on director Sam Mendes’ 1993 London revival, which was originally staged at the 250-seat Donmar Warehouse, before it was remounted by co-director Rob Marshall for New York’s Roundabout Theatre in 1998, housed in a 1,000-seat venue at Studio 54, the former 1970s discotheque.
If anything gets lost in translation at the 4,600-seat Fox, it isn’t the spectacular Broadway-scale production values we’ve come to expect from such road shows, but rather the cloistered nightclub atmosphere that might lead audiences to feel they were right in the thick of things. After all, to borrow the refrain from the famous title tune, life is a cabaret; life is an enormous theater auditorium doesn’t have quite the same ring or sense of intimacy to it.
Joe Masteroff’s script for the musical was initially adapted from a 1950s play by John Van Druten called “I Am a Camera,” which was in turn based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1930s novella “Goodbye to Berlin.” The story primarily involves an aspiring American novelist, Clifford Bradshaw, and his romance with a vivacious British chanteuse named Sally Bowles.
The bulk of the show takes place amid the bohemian underworld of the Kit Kat Klub, where Sally performs, alongside a seedy and insinuating Emcee and his scantily clad chorus of other singers and dancers. At first, the musical numbers seem innocuous (or salacious) enough, but they increasingly begin to comment on or allude to some of the ominous social and political turmoil brewing just outside the club, as Hitler and the Nazi party are coming to power.
Theatergoers who are only familiar with “Cabaret” from Bob Fosse’s popular 1972 movie will be surprised to discover whole songs and subplots that were excised in the transition from stage to screen. To wit, on this tour, directed by BT McNicoll, Mary Gordon Murray and Scott Robertson beautifully portray the late-blooming, ill-fated courtship between a lonely boardinghouse owner and a Jewish fruit vendor. (Whole other songs were added to the film, which was skewed as a star vehicle for Liza Minnelli’s Sally.)
But even those who have seen the original stage musical may be in for a few shocks. The Mendes version is decidedly kinkier — mainly pertaining to a lot of sexual innuendo on the part of the Emcee and his Kit Kat Girls (which now also include Kit Kat Boys), in addition to more blatant references to Cliff’s bisexuality (merely hinted at before).
Randy Harrison cuts an undeniably dynamic and masterful figure as the Emcee, and Benjamin Eakeley is excellent as the disillusioned Cliff. At Tuesday’s opening-night performance here, understudy Alison Ewing (stepping in for Andrea Goss) played Sally quite effectively, both musically and dramatically.
And in the shattering climax of the show, at least, you can even appreciate seeing it on a scale you’d get only at the Fox.
Through Nov. 6. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $47.45-$116.15. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-855-285-8499, foxtheatre.org.
Bottom line: Bigger isn’t always better.
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