“There was a cabaret, and there was a master of ceremonies ... and there was a city called Berlin, in a country called Germany ... and it was the end of the world.”
Clifford Bradshaw, “Cabaret”
Set in the seedy Kit Kat Klub in 1931 when the Nazis were gaining power, the 51-year-old musical “Cabaret” has endured as a political metaphor and a poignant piece of intimate entertainment.
Its latest incarnation is a national tour based on the acclaimed revival that reunited directors Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall in 2014. The innovative duo recreated their magic once again for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production, just as they had in the 1998 Tony Award-winning revival.
The tour will play March 7-19 at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis.
Alison Ewing, one of the Broadway performers who has been on this tour for a year, portrays Fraulein Kost and Fritzie, and is the understudy to Sally Bowles. She appeared in the first national tour in 1999 as LuLu.
“It’s even more powerful now than it was 18 years ago,” she said during a phone interview from Michigan. “You see the decadent partying in 1930s Berlin, the end of the Weimar era in Germany, when the Nazis were rising to power, and all the political polarization. There are a lot of parallels. It’s so impactful now.”
When “Cabaret” premiered on Broadway in 1966, it was hailed for its novel concepts and unusual staging by director Hal Prince. Songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb included social commentary in the nightclub setting. It won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Book writer Joe Masteroff had adapted John Van Druten’s 1951 play, “I Am a Camera,” which was based on American writer Christopher Isherwood’s stories “Goodbye to Berlin.”
The popular 1972 movie won Oscars for director Bob Fosse and performers Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey.
Then Mendes, founder and artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London’s West End, carved out an unconventional approach in his 1993 version, creating a tawdry and ominous atmosphere. This became the much heralded 1998 Broadway production starring Alan Cumming as the Emcee.
For Roundabout, he added “Mein Herr” and “Maybe This Time” from the movie and the score was re-orchestrated, using all the performers as the Kit Kat Band. The show won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical.
“Sam Mendes is so brilliant. He took what he saw in the movie and flipped it. He took away the scenery, the lavish costumes, and made it more raw, stripped down. His idea was to capture this place in time. He really paid attention to the acting and the script. There is a real truth to it,” Ewing said.
Mendes, who would go on to win an Oscar for “American Beauty,” teamed up with Marshall, a Tony-winning choreographer who would helm the Oscar-winning “Chicago,” early in their careers. The result was this landmark experience that has resonated with audiences ever since, including another lauded revival in 2014.
“Now they are huge movie directors – Mendes did the James Bond movie ‘Skyfall’ and Marshall did ‘Into the Woods’ – but their collaboration when they were young is a beautiful, precious work. It’s filled with significant meaning. It leaves you entertained – and stunned,” Ewing said.
It’s even more powerful now than it was 18 years ago. You see the decadent partying in 1930s Berlin, the end of the Weimar era in Germany, when the Nazis were rising to power, and all the political polarization. There are a lot of parallels. It’s so impactful now.
Actress Alison Ewing
“Cabaret” now holds the record for the third-longest revival in Broadway history, next to “Oh, Calcutta!” and another Kander-Ebb hit, “Chicago.”
This revival staging focused on making it a more intimate theatrical experience for the audience.
“You are in the safety of the Kit Kat Klub. You feel like you are invited into their world,” Ewing said.
The score features “Wilkommen,” “Maybe This Time” and the memorable title song, “Cabaret.”
“Everyone knows this music. There are such famous songs, and they are still so fresh,” she said.
The touring cast includes several veterans of the latest Broadway revival, including Benjamin Eakeley as the young American writer Clifford Bradshaw, Scott Robertson as Herr Schultz and Ewing. Jon Peterson is the Emcee and Leigh Ann Larkin is chanteuse Sally Bowles.
“We are a very tight-knit ensemble,” she said. “We’re all-singing, all-dancing and acting, and also in the orchestra. Even if you have no lines, you are on stage up in the orchestra. This is very much an ensemble piece. We hold up each other together. We really feel that we are all making the play run together.”
Ewing is a touring veteran. She and her husband, Keith, also an actor, are based near San Francisco. She had a successful, long run in “Mamma Mia!” as Tanya – played the part in the final Broadway cast, went on two national tours and performed in the Las Vegas production.
“‘Mamma Mia!’ has been very good to me. It was a really great experience, and always a fun time,” she said.
A native of Mason City, Iowa, Ewing graduated with a musical theater degree from Millikin University in Decatur.
“Being a smaller school, we had more individual focus. We have a number of alumni who have had very successful careers,” she said.
At an early age, she performed in children’s theater and kept at it through elementary school and high school.
“I luckily grew up where there were opportunities, like show choir in high school. I always loved performing and entertaining, and knew it was what I wanted to do,” she said.
Ewing said she is grateful to be a part of the Roundabout Theatre Company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with this tour.
“This is the best version of ‘Cabaret’ I can ever imagine doing. People should not miss it,” she said. “It is a piece of history that’s really important to remember. It’s really relevant.”
When: March 7-19, 2017
Where: Fox Theatre, St. Louis
Information and tickets: www.fabulousfox.com, MetroTix: 314-534-1111