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Cabaret - Broadway

Emma Stone and Alan Cumming star in Roundabout's revival of Kander and Ebb's classic.

Why Cabaret Star Michelle Williams Feels Like a Baby & How Alan Cumming Almost Got Bitch-Slapped

Why Cabaret Star Michelle Williams Feels Like a Baby & How Alan Cumming Almost Got Bitch-Slapped
Michelle Williams & Alan Cumming, Photo by Matthew Arnold
'Cabaret' stars Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams talk shoes, nipple rouge and feeling like a baby at the TimesCenter.

Tony winner Alan Cumming, Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, and co-director and choreographer Rob Marshall spoke to an audience on the edge of their plush red seats at The New York Times headquarters on February 24 about bringing Cabaret back to Broadway this spring.

To hear Williams tell it, she isn't exactly kicking up her heels at the prospect of dancing in front of throngs of devoted Broadway fans in the return of the musical. “They were generous enough to start me a few months before everyone else. I’ve been taking classes in a studio in Brooklyn and I'm basically being a kid there. I feel like a baby,” she said. “I get to rehearsal, and I'm like, ‘What do I do?’”

When asked if they’ve begun rehearsing at the legendary Studio 54 yet, Cumming replied, “We’re in the theater in a couple of weeks." Williams then put her fingers in her ears and sang, “La-la-la-la-la...” Of her decision to take the role, Williams said, “Some people call it bravery, but really, I call it my inability to see a decision through to the end when I say ‘yes.’”

After being prompted by discussion moderator and Times staffer David Rooney, Cumming shared the story of how he pulled a very special—and very old—guest onstage with him during his 1998 stint in the show.

“One day, I grabbed this old bloke with a mustache to bring him on stage to dance and said, ‘Come along, Granddad,’ and the whole audience stated cheering and whooping. I thought, ‘Wow, aren’t Americans so nice to their elderly!’ When I asked, ‘What’s your name?’ He said, ‘Cronkite.’ It was Walter Cronkite. A year later I saw him at a party, and when he started coming toward me, I thought I was about to get bitch-slapped. Instead, he said, ‘May I please have this dance?’”

Taking his cue, Rooney mused, “So, you’re not 28 anymore, and you’re applying rouge to your nipples and donning suspenders—at middle age—what is that like?” Cumming, without missing a beat, replied, “You know, I’m fitter now than I was when I first did the show 16 years ago. Although, I do have to go for more naps now.”

Rooney forgot his next question, so Cumming offered, “I have a question for you, where did you get your shoes?”

Cabaret has seen multiple incarnations since its initial 1966 inception, most recently making its biggest splash at Studio 54 in the 1998 revival. The story, which takes place during the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, reins in the audience with promises of sexy, voyeuristic glimpses into an underworld—only to suddenly stop them in their tracks when they see that the world they’re in isn’t all it’s cracked up to be—in fact, it’s quite horrific. Their only guide through that journey is by one Emcee, played by Cumming like nobody else can.

The actor noted that the themes of the story are still relevant, especially with the laws currently being passed in Russia. “The way they’re persecuting gays is similar to what went on in Nazi Germany. Sadly, that kind of bigotry doesn’t go away." Turning to the audience, he said, "Did you know that in Arizona, it’s legal for a business not to serve someone if they’re gay?”

Later, Marshall commented on the lackluster state of many other Broadway shows—acknowledging he was getting himself into hot water—saying, “The majority of shows feel sanitized, lack artistry and storytelling.” Cumming agreed, adding, “People expect a big production, and in that, something is lost. These are different times. But this show, it's about the actors."

See Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming in Cabaret beginning March 21 at Studio 54.

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