20-Day Countdown! The Top 20 Tony Performances of My Lifetime: #13: CABARET, 1998

Thirteen days until the Tony Awards! We are at #13 on my 20-day Countdown of the Top 20 Tony Performances of My Lifetime.

This gem of a musical gets me excited every time.  I wasn't alive when Joel Grey breathed life into the Emcee role in 1967, but in 1998, the world was lucky enough to get the modern-day version with someone equally as comparable: Alan Cumming.  Yes, willkommen, ladies and gentlemen, I'm talking about the (second) revival cast of Cabaret!

In 1967, Hal Prince wanted to make a new kind of socially-responsible musical theater.  Something uncomfortable and stinging, something where the kicklines weren't Vaudeville, and the banners weren't jolly, and the center stage wasn't entirely ethnocentrically American, yet it would still drip with metaphorical parallels.  Drop a Nazi flag down the stage during a production, and wa-la, you've got yourself some discomfort.  But the story rings true, even today.  Sally Bowles represents the people who close their eyes to the changes in the world; Clifford Bradshaw, the novelist, represents those who can no longer sit idly by while the world changes; and the Emcee represents the entirely changing world and the conscious awareness of it.

When the show first opened in 1967, it was flawed.  It was trying to pave the way for new, uncomfortable, socially aware, concept musicals, while at the same time still holding on to archaic theater elements that were expected at the time (a romantic leading couple and a comedic secondary couple, for example) and shying away from things that would end up getting too censored.  In 1972, Bob Fosse (lovesies!) made a film version that stripped the traditional stuff and bulked up the juicy meat.  By 1987, when the first revival show came back to Broadway, Hal Prince had cleaned it up fit for an uncomfortable audience, put the previously censored homosexuality back into the show, and paved the way for the newer and most-uncensored version to date, the 1998 revival cast starring the stellar Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson (R.I.P., you perfect woman, you).  I loved Joel Grey's 1967 creepy, mechanical Emcee portrayal, but man, Alan Cumming just sizzles!

The revival cast ran for 2,377 performances, making it the third-longest-running revival in Broadway history; and the show was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning four, including the top slots for Best Musical Revival and Best Leading Actors.  So here to take you away is Alan Cumming as the Emcee in the opening number.  I don't need to introduce it; it introduces itself.

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