The last time a Broadway tour of “Cabaret” came to the Twin Cities, many kids who are now high school seniors weren’t even born yet.
Norbert Leo Butz starred in 1999 as the alluring Emcee in that Tony-winning staging by Sam Mendes, with Teri Hatcher bringing spark and sass to the role of Sally Bowles.
B.T. McNicholl’s sexily evocative revival for New York’s Roundabout Theatre, which opened Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, has just as much spark.
This electric production is headlined by Randy Harrison as the Emcee. Playful and commanding, Harrison totally inhabits the androgynous host of the Kit Kat Klub, a place where American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley) meets English performer Sally Bowles (pixie phenom Andrea Goss), and where folks in Weimar-era Berlin go to escape their troubles.
The action begins, in fact, with Harrison’s index finger, lit sharply by a spotlight as it pushes out from behind the curtain. As the Emcee steps out, soon to be joined by tawdry dancers, he bids us “Willkommen” with an alluring voice that promises libidinous excess.
But the Emcee is presiding over a last hurrah. The Nazis, some of whom seem like nice, ordinary people, will soon rise to power.
“Cabaret,” which derives from Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories,” is a show that serves as a kind of warning. Sensuality and abandon pervade the classic musical by composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, first staged in 1966, but also creeping despair as the people in Berlin brace for change.
Some, like Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (Scott Robertson), do not see what’s coming. Others, like his potential love interest Fraulein Schneider (Mary Gordon Murray), see it all too clearly.
All are caught up in a riptide of history beyond their control.
McNicholl’s production tells the story thrillingly, with an expert cast of actor-musicians who sell their numbers. Goss is lithe and evocative as Sally, imbuing the character with chutzpah (“Don’t Tell Mama”) and vulnerability (“Maybe This Time”). Murray stands out as Fraulein Schneider, the boardinghouse owner whose “So What?” is full of experience and wisdom.
If Eakeley’s Cliff is a bit cold, it’s partly because the character has so little heart.
McNicholl’s creative team does its part to add striking strokes to the staging, including Peggy Eisenhauer’s and Mike Baldassari’s lighting and William Ivey Long’s costumes.
The choreography, re-created by Cynthia Onrubia from Rob Marshall’s 1998 Tony-winning work, echoes the arc of the story, from lusty fun in the early scenes to ominous martial kick lines later in the show. Similarly, the design palette, which begins with vivid hues, is drained of color by the end, when the schema is all shadows and black and white.
From its arresting start to a gripping finish, this is a show that never fails to thrill.