You may know Randy Harrison from his five seasons on Queer as Folk or from his turn as Tom Wingfield** in the Guthrie revival of The Glass Menagerie in 2007. You can now see him onstage in luminous form in a crackling Roundabout Theatre production of the Ebb and Kander musical with book by Joe Masteroff, Cabaret. On the Orpheum stage, he handles the role with just the right amount of inner steel matched with reptilian cool. He is sexy without overdoing it, which is the trap that those who play this role can easily fall into.
Joe Masteroff’s book, Fred Ebb’s lyrics, and John Kander’s music amounted to a Broadway breakthrough in presentation of sexual themes. Such themes had not been woven into a script to such an extent and mastery (no pun intended) ever before. Some of the tunes deal with a ménage à trois, sleeping around, and deceiving your mother into thinking you are at a convent rather than working in the sleazy Kit Kat Klub.
Respecting that, director BT McNicholl and choreographer Cynthia Onrubia go full throttle with the decadent power that Cabaret is all about. The setting is Berlin between the wars. Hitler is coming to power and the freewheeling hedonism of the time and place oozes throughout. The female and gay male characters (reminiscent of what we now call “twinks”) are aggressively sexual and totally at home with that. This vividly sets up their fall at the end of the play when the Nazis stamped out gender and sexual expression.
Andrea Goss as protagonist Sally Bowles, a singer with a profound lack of self control, enrages, as she should, as we see her go from one bad choice to another. Benjamin Eakeley shines as Clifford Bradshaw, the musical’s one figure who keeps his head when all about him are losing theirs. He plays the man as bisexual, rather than a closet case, and this is how I feel the part is meant to be. Scott Robertson gives a touching performance as Herr Schulz, a Jewish grocer, who seems to think that since governments come and go, that hatred of Jews in Germany at the time will somehow work itself out before it goes too far.
As one who has seen several productions of Cabaret over the decades, I have never seen such a terrific Fräulein Kost as Alison Ewing, nor such a riveting Fräulein Schneider as Mary Gordon Murray. Ewing electrifies as the sex worker who tests the limits of tolerance in Fräulein Schneider’s boarding house. Murray is commanding in her vocals and sweetly vulnerable as a gentile woman who is faced with the pain of loving a Jew in the most antisemitic culture that ever existed.
To fans of the film: if you’ve never seen the stage version you will find more tunes and better character development. The film is still brilliant but the stage version is richer.
**Note: Harrison actually shared the role of Tom Wingfield with Bill McCallum almost a decade ago. Meaning that Harrison played younger Tom and Callum played the older. The role is typically not spliced like that. Typically the same actor plays Tom as younger and older. What’s rather synchronistic though, is that McCallum is also acting four blocks away from Harrison in a fine performance in Illusion Theater’s Finding Fish.
Through Oct. 23
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis