Walnut Street Theatre will present the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Cabaret as the finale to a season of classics. It's one of the most popular and prize-winning Broadway musicals in history, having earned eight Tony Awards, including "Best Musical" and "Best Musical" nods from the New York Drama Critics and the Outer Circle Critics.
The production runs April 27 through June 9 and features Charles Abbott in the role of The Emcee. Abbott, well-known as a director of the Walnut's spectacular holiday musicals, abandons his director's chair for the spotlight.
Cabaret is set in Berlin at the beginning of the 1930s, just before the storm troopers take over Germany. The sense of impending doom drives people to places like the Kit Kat Klub, where The Emcee helps them forget the real world and lose themselves in the club's smoky decadence.
Cliff Bradshaw, a poor American writer, is seeking inspiration for his next novel. While on a train headed for Berlin, he meets smuggler Ernst Ludwig, who directs Cliff to a rooming house run by Fraulein Schneider.
Cliff settles in, takes out his typewriter, ready to work, then realizes it's New Year's Eve! He ends up at the Kit Kat Klub and sees a performance by Sally Bowles, a young English singer. Cliff invites Sally to his place, but she refuses, explaining that the club owner, Max, is very jealous. However, Sally appears at Cliff's door the next day -- Max has thrown her out, so Cliff shares his room with Sally. Months pass . . . Cliff is getting nowhere with his novel, but he and Sally are sure having a great time. Sally gets pregnant and Cliff, needing money, accepts a smuggling job from his former traveling companion, Ernst.
Meanwhile, Herr Schultz, a Jewish widower who lives in the same rooming house, is courting Fraulein Schneider. They plan to marry, but the Fraulein eventually breaks the engagement, afraid of what will happen when the Nazis come to power.
The mature love between Schultz and the Fraulein poignantly contrasts the youthful, passionate affair between Cliff and Sally.
Throughout the action of the play, the Kit Kat Klub Emcee appears, singing and clowning through a variety of musical numbers, in stark opposition to the history-making events in the real world.
Abbott has played the role of The Emcee over 1,000 times in several productions, beginning with the first national tour of Cabaret (for 18 months) and most recently at Maine State Music Theatre (where he is artistic director) in 1993. How does he manage to keep his performance fresh?
"When I did the role in 1993, it had been about 10 years since I played the part," Abbott said. "During that time, I had learned a lot as a human being, and brought new ideas to the role." Abbott strives to make The Emcee speak to a contemporary audience. Cabaret is a show that can always be made relevant, he stated.
Abbott's history with Cabaret has been a tremendous asset each time he plays The Emcee, he said. "From the beginning, I've been invested in what this property is about. I was directed by Harold Prince and worked with the original choreographer, Ron Field, which was an incredible experience."
He's also directed the show many times, with stars such as Billy Crystal and Arte Johnson, and non-stars alike.
Abbott is certainly looking forward to portraying the painted, preening showman in the Walnut's production of Cabaret. "In addition to the wonderful musical numbers, this is simply a delicious role!" he stated. "It's always fun to play a sinister character. Underneath all his seductive showmanship is someone who wants to take over your will."
Tickets for Cabaret are now on sale, ranging from $10 to $40. For tickets and information, call 215/574-3550, ext. 4, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. For group sales, call 215/574-3550, ext. 562.
-- By Ira Kamens