Saturday, January 30th 2016
Edited by: Marcy
I attended the matinee and evening performance of Cabaret at Providence, Rhode Island this past weekend. For the matinee I had a third row orchestra seat, but on the extreme left side, but still with great views and close enough to see every nuance in Randy’s performance. For the evening show I was upstairs in the mezzanine, so you lost some of that intimacy, but what I absolutely LOVED about that view was that there was Randy, center stage in a grand, old, huge auditorium, spotlight only on him, and every person in the 3200+ seat theater riveted to his every move. And he just absolutely soaked it up! It was beautiful moment.
For those of you that know only the movie version of Cabaret, and perhaps Liza Minnelli’s rendition of the theme song, this is not that movie. It’s dark and gritty and intense, and very often simply stunning.
About 10 minutes before the actual show starts the boys and girls of the Kit Kat Club begin to filter on to the stage, stretching, socializing and chatting. As they leave, a small spotlight focuses on one of the three doors that make up the back of the stage when a small peep-hole door opens and you can see Randy peering out from behind. The peep-hole door slams shut and then the door opens to shine the spotlight on Randy’s hand, as he beckons you to enter. As he moves to center stage the spotlight grows until it shines on his face and so begins “Willkommen.” From that moment it was clear he was in charge, there is no hint of the rehearsal “jitters,” as he commands the stage with his charm and his mere presence. And what is more remarkable is that even though he is performing established songs, with almost iconic lines and choreography, he makes it clear that this performance is his own. He handles the languages and German accent flawlessly.
His voice can best be described as powerful yet smooth and effortless. And for someone who has stated in the past that, “I’m not a dancer,” well, he lied! He moved across that stage with such grace and agility. Dressed in the easily recognizable Emcee costume of suspenders (Arranged in a most delightful way) knee pants, garters and army boots, he kept up with every one of those girls step for step. He’s naughty, and suggestive and sultry and yet, still very inviting. At one point when introducing the Kit Kat Boys, he declares “There is only one way to tell the difference between Bobby and Victor. I’ll tell you later.” At the end of the song he grabs both boys in the crotch and with a sly look turns to the audience and declares with a wink and a smile, “That’s Victor.”
Of course in the role of the Emcee, he has many wonderful moments all to himself, but he also represents the entire country of Germany, and shows us the changes occurring in the country in the early 1930’s. So when not performing onstage, he is never far away lingering in the corners of the stage or perhaps watching from the second level of the stage where the orchestra is seated, sometimes exchanging hugs or embraces with both the boys and the girls of the orchestra. In the scene that introduces us to Cliff, the American writer traveling through the country, Randy appears as a German soldier checking passports on the train… but this time instead of the happy rendition of the opening, that scene closes with a sinister and foreboding whispered word, “Willkommen.”
Randy’s next big scene is “Two Ladies,” which has Randy appearing in long boxers and a tank and of course, suspenders while explaining that sometimes roommates are more fun in threes, and that he is the only man with “Two Ladies,” even though one of the “ladies” is obviously one of the boys dressed as a girl. To say the dance they do is suggestive would be an understatement! At one point they move behind a curtain and appear in silhouette performing moves that would make Brian Kinney blush! I was blown away by the sheer coordination involved in some of the moves the three of them performed.
Randy has an interesting scene in the ‘Pineapple’ song, “It couldn’t Please Me More,” performed by Fraulein Schneider and Herr Shultz, the older couple. He stands in his long leather coat holding the pineapple as they sing, very often moving it in suggestive ways. Then he simply moves off stage as they finish.
One of my two favorite scenes is a small one in which Randy appears on center stage with low lights. He is crouched behind an old record player while a recording of a young child sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” The multitude of emotions the cross over Randy’s face as he listens to the record is hard to describe. Hopeful. Longing. Desire. Pain. Wonder. Vulnerability. As the songs comes to the chorus, he drops the mask of the Emcee back in place and slams the top of the phonograph shut and shouts in a gritty voice, “TO ME!” Simply powerful. During the matinee it was easy to see all of this, but it was sadly not as apparent while sitting in the mezzanine. But that vantage point gave me a better look at him. He was wearing his leather coat, but when seen from the front you could tell he was bare chested underneath, and from the front at least it looked like he was pants less as well, with only the phonograph providing coverage.
In his next scene he appears in tuxedo pants, a black top hat and white tails as he sings the iconic “Money Makes the World Go Around,” which I honestly forgot was from this show. He dances with a briefcase that he twirls and opens and closes with ease. He’s dancing up on the metal spiral staircases that connect the top and bottom part of the stage. He’s on the stage dancing; he’s all over every part of that stage. He approaches each one of the Kit Kat Girls in turn and steals a kiss for a dollar or a slap for a dollar, or a bump and grind for a dollar at one point pulling down the fly on his pants to reveal a dollar that a kneeling girl removes as he gyrates his hips. Did I say command of that stage????
At the engagement party for Fraulein Schneider & Herr Shultz it is revealed that one of the guests is a supporter of the Nazi party while the would-be groom is Jewish. The party becomes quite tense, and Fraulein Kost attempts to bring the party back to life by singing the same song Randy had listened to on the phonograph, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” succeeding in getting an almost patriotic rendition from the party guests. Randy, dressed in his leather coat has been lurking from above watching the proceedings with distaste evident. At the end of the song he turns his back to the audience, lifts up his coat to reveal his bare ass with a bright red swastika on his cheek. Lights out.
Act Two begins with the amazing orchestra doing an overture of the songs, with Randy then appearing on stage dressed in a silk robe.He directly addresses the audience, waving to the mezzanine and balcony and cheerfully announcing, “Hello poor people! I would come there to say hello. But I’m afraid my legs won’t climb all those stairs.” He then turns his attention to back the audience in front of him, declaring he feels the need to dance. He pulls first woman on stage to dance, asking “Who are you with? Your husband? He’s cute too!” She goes back to her seat and he moves again to the audience declaring, “I smell fear!” He then grabs a man, declaring, “I want a man now…. but you’ll do!” And as soon as he’s on stage he begins to dance as he wags his finger and states, “No, no. I lead!” I think this was something that was added to give back some of the intimacy that is inevitably lost in such a large auditorium.
Before exiting the stage, he once again points up to the orchestra where the girls have all dressed in the same outfit, black knee boots, short black sleeveless dress, black wig with a bobbed cut and black beret. The make their way down to the stage from the two spiral staircases and begin a spirited kick-line dance, very similar to a Rockettes dance line. They kick and spin and turn and twist across the stage, moving and intertwining with ease. At the end of the dance, the line breaks and moving out from the center of the line Randy steps to the front of the stage and announces with a giggle, “Look! It’s me!!!”
In the next scene, which centers on Fraulein Schneider & Herr Shultz trying to reconcile after the interrupted engagement party, they sing “Married,” varies couples dance around the stage, including Randy and one of the orchestra boys. One by one they each leave their partners, until only Randy is left standing in the shadows.
Dressed in the black tuxedo pants, white dinner jacket and purple polka dot tie, he moves to the front and simply stands on stage with a uncomfortable grin… until he suddenly drops a large brick to the stage with a resounding thud, accompanied by the sound of shattering glass. Herr Shultz tries to explain it away as “mischievous schoolchildren.” Startling.
The next scene, “If You Could See Her,” which is essentially a love song to one of the girls dressed in a gorilla suit and pink dress. As absurd as it sounds the dance they do together is really beautifully done. Through the lyrics pleads to the audience, “why can’t they leave us alone,” “is it a crime to fall in love,” and “why you must sneer” “maybe they’d all understand.” As the silly and absurd dance continues, the audience laughs at the antics, but the true meaning of the song is brought home when Randy sneers out, “if they could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all!”
As the story has progressed, even Randy’s delivery of the iconic welcoming line, “Meine Damen und Herren, Mesdames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen!” which has been repeated at several times during the show has become a struggle, and more foreboding than welcoming.
This leads to the haunting “I Don’t Care Much,” where Randy, dressed in a sequined black cocktail dress, long glittery earrings, and black heels with even a barrette in his hair, appears in front of an old radio microphone standing in front of the orchestra. He leans heavily on the side of the stage and channels the lost feeling of Sally as he laments “I suppose I don’t care much either way…” His rendition is powerful, sad and desperate. At the end he wearily descends the stairs, dragging the microphone with him. He leaves it center stage after introducing Sally who then performs “Cabaret.”
As Cliff prepares to leave Germany without Sally he once again boards the train, and is asked for his passport by a soldier who stands with his back to the audience. He asks is Cliff will return to visit, and when he answers, “Not likely,” the soldier asks “Did you not find our country beautiful?” We know now that it is Randy, and after returning the passport he moves to stand at attention at the back of the stage, facing the closed doors, much as he did in the opening scene on the train. Cliff has finally finished his novel, telling the story of the Sally and the Cabaret. He starts to sing a mournful version of “Willkommen,” at which point Randy moves to him places an arm around his shoulder and they continue the song together, until Cliff pushes him off and exits.
Now back in the role of the Emcee, Randy once again delivers his “Meine Damen und Herren, Mesdames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen!” line, but it angry and desperate. “Are you HAPPY “he demands? He stubbornly once again declares that everything is “Beautiful,” the orchestra is “Beautful!” But this time as he points to the orchestra no one is there but Sally. The look of utter devastation on his face was palpable. This was my second favorite scene… too powerful to ignore.
The entire back of the stage opens up to reveal the train station with the characters standing quietly onstage as the spotlight hits them one by one and then slowly fades on each. Randy moves to the front and once again seductively begins to remove his leather coat while playing with the audience. But this time when he opens it he is dressed in a striped concentration camp uniform with a yellow star and pink triangle, drawing a loud audible gasp from the audience. Instead of singing “Willkommen” he instead sings, “Auf Wiedersehen, A bientôt.” He then moves forward and slowly turns and then suddenly throws his arms up and head bond. Lights out.
There was an almost delayed reaction from the audience, as they were a bit stunned by the scene, before they erupted into a loud raucous applause. At curtain the loudest and longest applause was reserved for Randy and it was so wonderful to see him getting and thriving in the well-deserved recognition. WOW!
After the evening show, Randy did appear at stage door. Wearing his big brown glasses and dressed in jeans and a blue wool coat, with scarf and knit hat. It was hard to imagine this mild-mannered “Clark Kent” was the same Big, Boisterous, Outlandish, Vibrant, Sultry, Exhilarating, Dangerous, Mysterious, Sexually ambiguous, Emcee we just saw on stage. He is looking happy, almost glowing I’d say, and is more fit than I have ever seen him. He graciously spoke to every single person there, stopping for autographs, pictures and conversation, including a bit of “shop talk” about dance positions with my friend. Success looks good on him!