'Cabaret' review — 'Wilkommen' to a Kit Kat Club like no other

Read our review of Cabaret on Broadway, a semi-immersive, award-winning revival of the classic Kander and Ebb musical starring Eddie Redmayne and Gayle Rankin.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

Kander and Ebb's Cabaret is a much-loved and -revived property such that its twists may not be secrets anymore. Despite the stellar Gayle Rankin’s best efforts to inject the latest revival with a sense of urgency as star performer Sally Bowles, director Rebecca Frecknall’s production, now on Broadway after winning multiple awards in London, stays stagnant. This is not due to the excellent company of dancers at the Kit Kat Club (into which the August Wilson Theatre has been remodeled), but to a disconnect between the production’s design and its book by the late Joe Masteroff.

Cabaret's ending has been staged in many ways over the years. A more overtly bleak one akin to those of previous revivals may feel too on-the-nose today, but this production’s thesis — that a lack of individuality is a fate worse than death — ignores that falling into line and becoming a good soldier wasn’t an option for most of the people on stage: queer people, political dissidents, and Jewish people and those close to them in Weimar Germany. Watching the cast transform into lifelike versions of the wooden dolls they play with in Act One is effective but further signals the disconnect in this production.

As Sally downs gin, this production of Cabaret wants audiences to drink and keep drinking. This is even encouraged in the theatre's news design, which adds ledges to orchestra seating to accommodate glasses. Scenic and house design by Tom Scutt immerses the audience in the atmosphere of the Kit Kat Club, but this eventually clashes with the heart of the show.

Following a haunting “Tomorrow Belongs to Me (Reprise),” during which stage platforms rise as the core characters watch their nation’s fate emerge, waitstaff serve the audience with cheesecake, sorbet, and more alcohol at intermission. As the rising tide of fascism swallows the illusion of the Kit Kat Club, the production encourages you to keep partying, to keep spending that money that makes the world go ‘round.

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Cabaret summary

An eccentric Emcee (Eddie Redmayne) welcomes audiences to Berlin’s Kit Kat Club in 1929 as dancers, including Sally Bowles (Rankin), invite you to forget your troubles – including the unfolding politics of Weimar Germany.

American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Ato Blankson-Wood) comes to Berlin to find inspiration for his novel. He ends up rooming with Sally and teaching English to his new friend Ernst Ludwig (Henry Gottfried). Between raucous musical numbers, Ernst tries to recruit Cliff for his mysterious political cause.

A developing romance between Cliff’s landlady, Fraulein Schneider (Bebe Neuwirth), and boarder Herr Schultz (Steven Skybell) threatens to shatter the fragile state in which the characters find themselves.

What to expect at Cabaret

Cabaret encourages audiences to arrive at least an hour prior to curtain to enjoy the prologue, which features musicians and dancers performing throughout the Kit Kat Club. No photography is allowed during the prologue (or the show, of course), and ushers place stickers over every audience member’s phone camera. Servers offer cherry schnapps to guests upon arrival, and you can buy more drinks at the bar during the prologue and intermission.

Guests enter the Kit Kat Club via an alleyway, with an alternate accessible entrance also available.

Cabaret is performed in the round, with the August Wilson transformed to look like an actual club, complete with table seating. Orchestra-level rows feature ledges on which guests can rest their drinks, making the typical dance of getting up and down the aisle even more complicated — wear shoes you can twist and turn in, and be mindful with your glasses.

Cabaret also features loud special effects sequences and displays Nazi paraphernalia in its discussion and depiction of the Weimar Republic’s political landscape.

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What audiences are saying about Cabaret

Cabaret has an audience approval rating of 87% on Show-Score, putting it in the review aggregator's “Excellent” category.

  • "I sat mid-mezz and had an excellent experience with sight lines and sound. I understand that rear mezz is surprisingly good (especially if you get a booster from an usher). The pre-show is definitely worth your time, though it can get crowded before they open the theater (approx 45 minutes ahead)." Show-Score user Lizzy Baked Goods
  • Actress Jackie Hoffman, in her typical standoffish comedic fashion, called Cabaret’s pre-show prologue an “immersive, but annoying, experience” via X. Be mindful of wandering performers in the Club during the pre-show in the lobby!
  • “Great production of an all-time great show.” - Show-Score user GuyMacguffin

Read more audience reviews of Cabaret on Show-Score.

Who should see Cabaret

  • If you enjoyed any of the many previous iterations of Cabaret, including the 2014 Broadway revival (which was a remounting of the 1998 revival), you’ll likely want to see Rebecca Frecknall’s production for comparison.
  • Fans of Eddie Redmayne’s turns on stage and screen, from Les Misérables to London's West End, will want to catch his turn as the Emcee. Redmayne is only the third actor to originate the role of an Emcee in a Cabaret production, following Joel Grey and Alan Cumming (who've each reprised their roles in revivals).
  • Fans of Netflix’s cult hit GLOW will relish seeing Gayle Rankin in a very different role as she storms the stage as Sally Bowles.

Learn more about Cabaret on Broadway

A new revival of Cabaret is hard to resist regardless of who takes the stage. To really know if this production hits the mark, you must visit the Kit Kat Club for yourself.

Learn more about Cabaret on Broadway at New York Theatre Guide. Cabaret is at the Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson Theatre.

Photo credit: Cabaret on Broadway. (Photos by Marc Brenner)

Originally published on

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