In the early 2000s, Randy Harrison starred in one of the most addictive, engaging, and subversive comi-dramas on American television. Eleven years after Showtime's Queer as Folk ended, the actor is back to revealing the lives of complex individuals and complicated ideals. This time, however, he’s onstage. And singing. And wearing very, very little.
Cabaret celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, after first being performed on Broadway in 1966. Based on a book written in 1939 called Goodbye to Berlin, the story follows English cabaret performer Sally Bowles and her relationship with American writer Cliff Bradshaw. Set in Berlin’s seedy, sultry Kit Kat Klub during the Weimar Republic, the locale offers patrons an escape from the outside political strife. It also gives audiences insight into Germany’s prewar tensions.
The musical has since gone through a number of reinventions (the most popular being Liza Minnelli's 1972 film adaptation). Film director Sam Mendes and theater director Rob Marshall codirected a darker version of the musical that premiered in 1993 in London. The Broadway revival won a Tony in 1998. And now, New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company is presenting a touring version of Mendes and Marshall’s interpretation that honors the show’s monumental run.
On this tour, which began in Providence, Rhode Island, the Cabaret cast and crew will travel to more than 20 cities across the United States during its first season. Though the actors’ lines remain the same, elements such as staging, spacing, and technical logistics have to be adjusted in each town and venue. “Every city is different, every theater is different, and every audience is different,” says Harrison, who plays the Emcee. “I find it's a balance of trying to explore new cities and also trying to maintain some kind of constancy.”
Harrison's role serves as the venue’s host. The Mendes-Marshall version of Cabaret has sexualized the part more so than previous iterations, so Harrison’s costumes consist of combinations such as suspenders with a bow tie or a corset with a leather jacket.
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He plays the role convincingly, but he doesn’t seem to share his character’s eccentricities or extravagancies. Instead, during an email interview with New Times from a previous tour locale, he says, “The hardest thing so far has been making sure I get enough rest... Just maintaining my health on the road is a full-time job, especially because we generally travel on our one day off a week.”
But Harrison says the social implications of Cabaret are vital to the production and wildly relevant today. The musical shows the range and spectrum of sexuality — and originally did so during a more conservative social climate. Yet 50 years after the first production debuted (and closer to 80 years after the first text was published), many of the issues presented are still significant. Sally Bowles’ abortion and her decision whether to have the procedure still stymie lawmakers today. And religious groups are still persecuted based solely on their beliefs.
That’s why, Harrison says, “I think the relevancy of this show in our current political climate cannot be overstated.” Still, “I think the production speaks for itself.”
8 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, through Sunday, April 17, at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Tickets start at $29. Visit arshtcenter.org.