“I’ve remounted opera productions where we’ve presented them in the past and are mounting them with a new company,” mused Robert Brill, scenic designer of the Roundabout Theatre Company production of Cabaret, which is enjoying a return engagement at the company’s Studio 54.
“But this is the first time I’ve completely recreated a production that has had this kind of history to it, and had a successful run before.”
The original Broadway revival of this Cabaret, co-directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, had a long run on Broadway, from 1998 to 2004 — first at the Kit Kat Klub (aka, the Henry Miller’s Theatre, on W. 43rd Street) and then at the old Studio 54, a dance club that was repurposed for the production and is now owned by the Roundabout.
Remounting Cabaret isn’t the same as restaging any old production from the past — a matter of finding the set and throwing it back onstage. Mendes, Marshall and Brill’s environmental rendition came not just with its own set, but, in effect, its own theatre. A large part of the orchestra seating was made up to look like a Weimar Republic club, with classic cabaret seating consisting of free-standing chairs and small round tables that could support small lamps and cocktail glasses. Bringing back Cabaret meant nothing less than bringing back the Studio 54 of 1998.
The enterprise took a few months to complete. Nonetheless, Brill said, "It’s been a real pleasure to recreate it from scratch."
That’s right: From scratch. Back in 2004, when Cabaret finally closed, the Roundabout didn’t envision a scenario where it would revive the exact same production. Little to none of the set design was saved, except for a few tables and props.
"None of it was warehoused somewhere," told Brill. "We didn’t dust it off and put it back into the theatre. There were four or five props that we managed to find, not because they were stored for a future version of Cabaret, but just because they happened to find them in their warehouse."
One of those surviving props was the bentwood chair that Sally Bowles used in the number "Don’t Tell Mama." It has lived in the Roundabout’s reception offices since the original show closed. "It was one of the first props to come to the rehearsal halls when we began rehearsals," said Brill.
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