Mendes, Marshall and Former Cabaret Casts Bid Broadway Farewell at Final Performance

By Ernio Hernandez
January 5, 2004

"There was a Cabaret
and there was a Master of Ceremonies
and there was a city called Berlin
in a country called Germany.
It was the end of the world..."

So penned the character Clifford Bradshaw in the final moments of the closing night performance of Broadway's long-running revival of Cabaret on Jan. 4 — an evening not concluded with huge fanfare or confetti, but simply with the resonant idea envisioned some dozen years ago by director Sam Mendes and crystallized on Broadway with the help of co-director and choreographer Rob Marshall.

As audience members filed into the dank and dingy Kit Kat Klub (designed as such by Robert Brill), they unwittingly transformed into habitués of a risque 1929 Berlin cabaret. Lining the corridors at the infamous den were lobby boards of past headliners from the show's more than five year run. Amid the pre-show buzz, men were pulled from their cabaret tables, bent over the stage and, as usual, spanked by the Kit Kat girls, while other performers-in-waiting flanked the spiral staircases tuning their instruments.

Settling in with the beverage of their choice, Klub-goers may have noticed sitting among them former stars of the Kit Kat stage, including Dick Latessa, Mary McCormack and Deborah Gibson — who herself became part of the post-intermission banter when she was pulled up on stage by the Emcee (a camouflaged Adam Pascal, sporting black locks and the traditional red-sequined nipples). Pascal barbed the one-time Sally (and one-time pop star Debbie) "Deborah, I knew a singer once named Debbie."

As the lights dimmed at the top of the show and the frilly red cabaret table lamps lit once more, an anxious audience erupted into applause for a historical night to come. Each performer was afforded an equally roaring salute — the Kit Kat girls during their introduction in the opening number "Wilkommen"; Blair Brown (as Fraulein Schneider) following her first song "So What"; and Tony Roberts (as Herr Schultz) upon his first entrance. Even during the show's second act, when songs end within the context of the story (forwarding the flow of the plot), the performers had to pause for the crowd's acknowledgement of Pascal's rendition of "I Don't Care Much," as well as the title song "Cabaret," sung weightily by the production's most frequent Sally Bowles, Susan Egan.

Following the standing ovation that succeeded the reverberant conclusion of the Berlin-set musical (which foretells the impending Holocaust), Roundabout Theatre Company artistic director Todd Haimes spoke of the show, which helped propel the company as a viable player on Broadway. The humbled Haimes then introduced the show's director Sam Mendes, who took the stage and requested that the still-standing audience take their seats as he had a number of people to thank (and warned he might forget some, as he is now equipped with the mind of a new father). The director recognized the Roundabout head and foremost, the actors which he credits for keeping the show alive, singling out five performers who have been with the production since its inception on Broadway — Kristin Olness, Leenya Rideout, Fred Rose, Vance Avery and Michael O'Donnell.

Mendes thanked casting director Jim Carnahan (whose task was unearthing actors who can not only sing and dance, but play an instrument), musical director Patrick Vacariello, company manager Denys Baker, associate director BT McNicholl (who taught successive casts the show before Mendes came in and gave "pretentious notes"), general manager Sydney Davolos, the stage crew and the original designers Robert Brill, William Ivey Long, Peggy Eisenhauer, Mike Baldassari and Brian Ronan.

Original Cabaret stars Natasha Richardson and Ron Rifkin (who were both honored with Tony Awards for their turns), John Benjamin Hickey, Denis O'Hare, Michele Pawk amd Mary Louise Wilson also received thanks from the director. Mendes especially thanked original Emcee Alan Cumming "in absentia" — whose spirit, he said, still lingered for years after he left the production.

Mendes then welcomed on stage his associate (and director of the Academy Award-winning film "Chicago") Rob Marshall, joking "one day, he'll have a film career." He also brought up associate choreographer Cynthia Onrubia before finally introducing — and noting how lucky the show was to have them — Cabaret librettist Joe Masteroff and composer John Kander.

Seen at the upstairs Studio 54 after party were upcoming 54 inhabitant, Assassins star Neil Patrick Harris; fellow 80's pop icon Molly Ringwald; and original Cabaret cast member Denis O'Hare. O'Hare performed his post-Cabaret Tony Award-winning turn in Take Me Out one last time earlier that evening a mere six blocks away. (He will also haunt the Cabaret home again as part of the cast of Assassins.) Other alum spotted at their former stomping grounds were Raul Esparza, Larry Keith, Maureen Moore, Matt McGrath, Kate Shindle, Michael Hayden, Heather Laws, Peter Benson and national tour star Jay Goede.

The evening was topped off with a short "making of" documentary of the Cabaret revival, using footage shot by cast member Michael O'Donnell, and a farewell poem bidding a fond (and at times raunchy) goodbye to fellow cast members in verse. Penned and orated by final cast members Penny Ayn Maas and Michael Curry, the ode was bookended by a take-off on the aforementioned words of Clifford Bradshaw: "There was a Cabaret and there were nine Masters of Ceremonies and there was a Studio called 54 in a country called Broadway. It was the end of the run..."