May 12, 2014
Garish make-up tarts up boys and the girls lasciviously snapping their hips right and left -- at once seductive and threatening. But those were the times, the Weimer Republic in Germany, setting the stage for Hitler’s scorched earth terror.
This is the Kit Kat Klub. Welcome. Guided by the black haired, red-lipped emcee Alan Cumming, audiences are dropped in the lap of decaying times. Still lanky, albeit a bit more bulked up at 50 years old than in his first appearance at Studio 54 in 1988. Now, Cumming retains his death mask sneer and loose-shouldered strut. He’s every bit the jester and puppeteer, tickling everyone’s baser instincts.
We meet the scantily dressed band member and corps of the Kit Kat Club when the American writer Clifford Bradshaw (Bill Heck) meets a businessman Ernst Ludwig (Aaron Krohn) on the train to Berlin. Through Ernst, the tall, attractive Cliff gets a room in a boarding house run by Fraulein Schneider (Linda Emond) and an invitation to the Kit Kat Klub. That’s where phones sit on café tables (the audience is seated at similar round tables with small lamps) and the staff is willing to amuse on any level with any sex.
Robert Brill’s metal catwalk wraps around to top back of the theater where the Kit Kat Girls and Boys spread out, and play infectiously jazzy music and songs by the stellar John Kander and Fred Ebb.
Over the course of the night, Cumming slinks through the aisles, swaying, pelvis first. Suspenders hold up thin black pants cut deeply towards his crotch. Age does not matter, time does not matter, physical, human contact does matter and if you’re lucky, love.
When Cliff visits the Kit Kat, the blond star Sally Bowles (Michelle Williams) calls him on the café phone, thrilled to hear an English speaking voice. After being booted out of the club to make room for another girl favored by the owner, Sally announces her residence in Cliff’s room. under the astute direction of Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall—becomes the broodingly seductive girl running on a tread -mill of disappointment.
Reflective of the original choreography by Bob Fosse, Marshall sustains the understated, lurid moves that lead with the crotch in deep, spread legged knee bends, hips snapping like a shudder side to side, and arms up, hands flapping in depraved hello or good-bye. Flaccid chorus lines execute the usual leg kick until the supporting leg and outstretched one stiffen more and more resembling Hitler’s goose step.
At the center of the musical, stands a beautiful love story between Fraulein Schneider (Linda Emond) and her houseguest, the Jewish fruit vendor Herr Schultz (the exception Danny Burstein). Both sing expertly modulated songs that convey a love blossoming in the winter of their lives. But the match is not meant to be because the rising muscle of Hitler’s gangs frightens German citizens intimate—on any level –with Jews.
In the 1998 revival with Cumming and Natasha Richardson, Cumming was a delicious shock, and he managed to suck the oxygen out of the place. This time around, Cumming retains his central presence, but the supporting cast, in particular Emond and Burstein as well as Fraulein Kost (Gayle Rankin) – the down-to-earth hooker—keep the evening buoyed on a much more even, high level pitch.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis