'Cabaret' leaves audience shaken at the Broward Center

A review of the Broadway road tour of @Cabaret_Musical at @BrowardCenter.

You've probably seen "Cabaret." Maybe it was the movie version. Perhaps you caught one of the stylish regional productions. No doubt you've heard the title song. Hasn't everyone? It's a standard, right?

But with the national touring production currently at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts for a two-week run, that song now has ominous storm clouds floating through it. Coming late in the second act, especially after a tuneful first act that always seems to be winking at you and licking its lips lasciviously, the song that we've heard a gazillion times over the past few decades has had all the triumphant oomph scraped away. In its place is something sad, hollow and devastating. It is heartbreaking.

That moment, and several others from the giving-it-all-we-got cast, saved "Cabaret" from some spotty sound problems that popped up throughout opening night.

The visuals are also a long way from the 1966 version, which won eight Tony Awards, or the 1972 Bob Fosse-directed film, which won eight Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Liza Minnelli. This production is by the Manhattan-based Roundabout Theatre Company and is inspired by a 1993 raunchy and ribald re-imagining in London. It's not unlike an Otto Dix painting come to life. A 1998 Broadway revival, with that down-and-dirty aesthetic, won four Tonys (and was itself re-revived in 2014).

The score by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb includes "Don't Tell Mama," "Mein Herr," "Maybe This Time," "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," "Married," "Two Ladies" and, of course, that title song.

The look and feel may be different from the original 1960s "Cabaret." Now, the dancers always seem to be grinding out cigarettes and slapping butts, while the costuming is a permanent state of blowsy undress and sly bondage references. But the story is essentially the same.

Set in Berlin as the Nazis began their rise to power in 1929-1930s Weimar Germany, the plot follows naive American novelist Cliff Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley) and his relationship with Sally Bowles (Andrea Goss), a gamine singer at the seedy Kit Kat Klub and the one who delivers the song "Cabaret" with just the right shadings of goth glam and deadened despondency.

Always looming and leering is the Emcee (Randy Harrison), a master of ceremonies at the nightclub who vamps and camps while furthering the action in diegetic songs such as "Willkommen," "Money" and "If You Could See Her (The Gorilla Song)."

"It's so terrible and tawdry," Cliff says, describing Berlin. "And everyone is having such a good time."

Aside from the Kit Kat Klub, much of the action (and Cliff's observations) comes from a boarding house where he finds a cheap room, and where the subplots, which are very different from the movie, take place.

It's not just that Roundabout's "Cabaret" has stripped all the show-biziness away while dialing up to 10 the raucous and risque factor and extending the production's reach over the footlights. (although it must be said a more intimate performance space would work even better). It's that the themes of the show have a disturbing nowness. Tuesday night's audience exited the Broward Center slower than usual after the 2 1/2-hour performance.

It seemed that some people needed a moment to shake themselves free.

"Cabaret" runs through Jan. 22 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays (6:30 p.m. Sundays), with 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays (and Wednesday, Jan. 18) and 1 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets cost $30-$175. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.

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