Review: Cabaret (Broadway in Chicago)

| February 15, 2016

Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles in Cabaret, Broadway Chicago          


By John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics)
    and Joe Masteroff (book)
PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
thru Feb 21  |  tix: $25-$108  | more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Top shelf cast in a must-see musical


Cabaret the Musical, Broadway Chicago, Roundabout Theatre

Roundabout Theatre Company i/a/w Broadway in Chicago presents

Review by John Olson

If it’s hard to get excited about a touring company of the 2014 Broadway revival of the 1998 Broadway revival of a nearly 50-year-old musical, but one needs only to see this Cabaret to be reminded how strong and important a musical this is, and how this particular concept of it – originally created on Broadway by Rob Marshall and Sam Mendes – was arguably an improvement on the original. And, I’m happy to report, it is being performed in this national tour (which opened just two weeks ago in Providence, RI) by a very strong cast, with BT McNicholl – associate director of the recent Broadway revival – recreating Mendes and Marshall’s concept for this tour.

Randy Harrison in Cabaret, Roundabout Theatre, Broadway ChicagoThe original Broadway production directed by Harold Prince, which opened in November 1966, was really a turning point in musical theatre in its treatment of serious subject matter (the rise of the Nazis in Weimar-era Germany) and its darkly satiric tone. (It predates the seminal Sondheim-Furth musical Company by 3-1/2 years.) Cabaret built on the structures of previous “concept musicals” (i.e. musicals that are more about a subject than a story, and that don’t necessarily follow traditional linear plot narratives) by telling the story of a young writer who moves to Berlin in 1929 and interrupting that story with musical numbers commenting on the action . These numbers are ostensibly performed in the Kit Kat Klub cabaret he frequents and where his new girlfriend, Sally Bowles, is a singer. Prince’s original production played the story scenes realistically on detailed sets, with the cabaret numbers – featuring an androgynous master of ceremonies (called “Emcee”) – against a glittery curtain of streamers. For this concept, which Mendes originated in 1993 at London’s Donmar Warehouse theater, the story scenes are set against a simple unit set of doors suggesting the rooming house where most of the action occurs, with the Kit Kat Band on a platform above. The cabaret numbers are performed downstage in front of the set of doors, so there’s no attempt to provide a realistic suggestion of the cabaret. Action flows seamlessly between the cabaret and the rooming house, and the Emcee – in another departure from the original staging – is present as an observer of the story as well as the featured performer of the “cabaret” numbers. The effect is that the piece has become less realistic and more a Brechtian treatise on the societal trends that may have allowed the rise of Nazism. It’s more fluid than the original concept – tighter and arguably better – though it loses some of the sense of specific time and place that was present in the original. Mendes and Marshall also cut some songs from the original and added superior songs from Bob Fosse’s film version – “Mein Herr,” “Money Makes the World Go ‘round” and “Maybe This Time,” as well as “I Don’t Care Much” – a song cut from the original that was later a hit for Barbra Streisand.

Andrea Goss as Sally Bowles, Cabaret Lee Aaron Rosen, Andrea Goss, Mark Nelson and Shannon Cochran, CabaretSarah Bishop, Andrea Goss and Alison Ewing in Cabaret Shannon Cochran, Mark Nelson, Alison Ewing, Randy Harrison in CabaretRandy Harrison in Cabaret, Broadway Chicago

The emcee here is Randy Harrison, best known for his role as the naïf Justin Taylor in the TV series “Queer as Folk.”  Those who remember Harrison as Justin will be surprised to see his muscular, aggressive approach and amazed at the solid, powerful and very pleasing singing voice he possesses along with a formidable stage presence. The Emcee is a role that made stars out of Joel Grey and Alan Cumming (both won Tony Awards, with Grey earning an Oscar for it as well). The last time the tour hit Chicago, Cabaret featured as the Emcee a then-unknown actor by the name of Norbert Leo Butz, who now is a two-time Tony Award winner. This role ought to be a boon to Harrison as well, whose Broadway career so far has consisted of only a short stint as Fiyero in Wicked 12 years ago. This tour’s Sally Bowles is a less familiar name – Andrea Goss, who understudied the role in the recent Broadway revival and also understudied the lead in Once – but she’s a winner as well. Goss projects a combination of cuteness and vulnerability together with brass. Her singing voice is a sort of a hybrid, combining the best qualities of Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone. She’s perfectly cast in this role as perpetual party girl who wants the fun to last forever, even as the fun stopped some time ago.

Shannon Cochran and Mark Nelson in Cabaret, Broadway ChicagoA cast member more familiar to Chicago audiences is Shannon Cochran, who gives a thoroughly engaging, natural performance as the landlady, Fraulein Schneider, who is romantically involved with the Jewish Herr Schultz. Fraulein Schneider has usually been cast much older – the iconic Lotte Lenya was nearly 70 when she originated the part on Broadway – but Cochran is a younger take on the role. While reading as a woman of “a certain age,” Cochran’s Fraulein is still a vibrant, sexually appealing woman, and Cochran’s powerful singing voice knocks her two solos out of the park. Her love interest, Herr Schultz, is played heartbreakingly by Mark Nelson. As writer Clifford Bradshaw, the tour has the handsome and golden voiced Lee Aaron Rosen. He does what he can with what is surely one of the most thankless romantic male leading roles ever. In the source material – Christopher Isherwood’s original novel “Goodbye to Berlin – the character says "I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.” Hard to do much more with someone whose job is to observe and react, but Rosen tends to fall back on simply shouting in the second act as Cliff realizes the threat of the Nazis. Perfectly likable – until they’re not – are Ned Noyes as the Nazi Ernst Ludwig and Alison Ewing as the Nazi sympathizer/prostitute Fraulein Kost.

Many directors dream of re-imagining classics in ways that will surpass the original, but this Cabaret is one of the very few concepts to achieve that. It took Sam Mendes from the artistic directorship of a small London non-profit fringe theater to worldwide acclaim on Broadway and Hollywood. This tour – running in Chicago through Sunday, February 21 only – offers a great chance to see this very smart take on a very important musical.

Rating: ★★★½

Cabaret continues through February 21st at PrivateBank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $25-$108, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Roundabout Theatre's Cabaret, Broadway in Chicago

Photos by Joan Marcus 




Randy Harrison (Emcee), Andrea Goss (Sally Bowles), Lee Aaron Rosen (Clifford Bradshaw), Ned Noyes (Ernst Ludwig), Shannon Cochran (Fraulein Schneider), Mark Nelson (Herr Schultz), Alison Ewing (Fraulein Kost, Fritzie), Hillary Ekwall (Rosie), Dani Spieler (Lulu), Aisling Halpin (Frenchie, Gorilla), Margaret Dudasik (Texas), Sarah Bishop (Helga), Leeds Hill (Bobby), Andrew Hubacher (Victor), Evan D. Siegel (Hans, Rudy), Tommy McDowell (Herman, customs official, Max), Alex Bowen (boy soprano recording), Fred Rose (customs official recording), Kelsey Beckert, Lori Eure, Joey Khoury, Steven Wenslawski (swings), John Little, Lucy Sorlucco (understudies)


Robert Cookman (musical director, conductor), Benet Braun (asst. director, piano, accordion), Bobby Brennan (bass), Taurus Lovely (drums), Alison Ewing (accordion), Kelsey Beckert, Aisling Halpin, Leeds Hill, Joey Khoury, Steven Wenslawski (clarinet), Hillary Ikwall, Margaret Dudasik, Leeds Hill (violin), Hillary Ekwall (cello), Tommy McDowell (banjo), Sarah Bishop, Lori Eure, Preston Haining, Tommy McDowell (trumpet), Andrew Hubacher (trombone), Lori Eure (french horn, euphonium), Ned Noyes, Evan D. Siegel, Dani Spieler, Steven Wenslawski (saxophones)

behind the scenes

BT McNicholl (director), Rob Marshall (original choreographer and co-director), Sam Mendes (original co-director), Cynthia Onrubia (associate choreographer and choreography re-created by), Leeds Hill (dance captain), Robert Brill (scenic design), Peggy Eisenhauer, Mike Baldassari (lighting design), Keith Caggiano (sound design, based on the original Broadway design by Brian Ronan), William Ivey Long (costume design), Paul Huntley (hair and wig design), Robert Amodeo (make-up design), Patrick Vaccariello (musical supervisor, vocal arrangements), Michael Gibson (orchestrations), David Krane (dance and incidental music), Robert Cookman (music director), John M. Atherlay (production stage manager), Robert V. Thurber (stage manager), Nikki Lint (asst. stage manager), Jim Carnahan (casting), Larry Morley (technical supervisor), Type A Marketing (press, marketing), Joan Marcus (photos)

Roundabout Theatre's Cabaret, Broadway ChicagoAndrea Goss and Lee Aaron Rosen in Cabaret, Roundabout TheatreRandy Harrsion as Emcee in Cabaret, Broadway Chicago


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, John Olson, Kander and Ebb, Musical, National Tours, PrivateBank Theatre, Video, YouTube

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