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Michelle Williams bows in Broadway's 'Cabaret,' with Alan Cumming

Musical TheaterMichelle WilliamsArts and Culture
"Cabaret" is back on Broadway in a revival of a revival production with Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming.

"Cabaret" is back on Broadway in a revival of a revival production — yes, that's right — that was first seen in 1998.

The critically acclaimed Sam Mendes staging from the Roundabout Theatre Co. opened Thursday at Studio 54 in New York, with Alan Cumming reprising his role as the decadent Master of Ceremonies. The big celebrity draw is Michelle Williams, who is making her Broadway debut in the role of Sally Bowles, which was played in 1998 by the late Natasha Richardson.

Mendes' production, which is codirected and choreographed by Rob Marshall, won multiple Tony Awards, including the award for revival of a musical, when it debuted 16 years ago. The staging brought an overtly louche sexuality to John Kander and Fred Ebb's musical, which is set in Berlin during the rise of the Nazi party.

Williams has previously appeared on stage in a 2002 off-Broadway production of Mike Leigh's "Smelling a Rat." She also starred in productions of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" at the Williamstown Theatre Festival and Tracy Letts' "Killer Joe" at New York's Soho Playhouse.

Mendes' production was mounted by the Donmar Warehouse in England in 1993, with Cumming playing the M.C. When it came to New York five years later, Marshall came on board as codirector and choreographer. 

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The 1998 Broadway run originated at what is now the Stephen Sondheim Theatre and then moved to Studio 54. The six-year run included such cast replacements as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Neil Patrick Harris and Raul Esparza.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times, reviewing the current production, wrote that "for some reason, [Williams] has chosen to tamp down any evidence of spontaneous sensuality" and has chosen an accent that "sometimes has her talking literally out of the side of her mouth." Cumming provides a "lightly looser, older-but-wiser variation on the same performance" as the M.C.

NY1's Roma Torre described Williams' performances as "missing some vital ingredients. Sally talks of allure, but Williams' Sally is largely lacking in that department. And because of this, the entire show is thrown off." As for Cumming, the "added years give him a more debauched quality and -- hard to believe -- he's even better this time around."

David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter praised Williams, writing that "there's a riveting hard-soft dichotomy" in her performance." Cumming remains "a knockout."

Writing about Williams, Variety's Marilyn Stasio thought it was "obvious that this ladylike thesp isn’t comfortable in the skin of this impulsive, irresponsible and utterly irresistible girl." For his part, Cumming has made the role "his own, and since he’s so very, very good at being so very, very bad, he can keep it forever."

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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