We all think we know all about “Cabaret,” the classic and ever-and-even-now-still-evolving John Kander and Fred Ebb musical about the denizens of a Berlin nightclub during the rise of the Nazis. The Roundabout Theatre Company production is nearing the end of its run in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. The last performance is Aug. 6.
“Cabaret” is really the story of three “Cabarets.” The original 1966 Broadway production starred Joel Grey as the leering Emcee, guiding audiences through Kander-Ebb songs like “Willkommen,” sharing the stage with expatriate singer Sally Bowles and the Kit Kat Girls’ band, a group of heavily made-up instrumentalists (who appeared to have other jobs, too).
We think we know “Cabaret” because Grey, with his eyebrows up to the ceiling, lipsticked face and slight tuxedoed form, let you know that anything was allowed — sexually, morally and politically— reflecting the country’s violent angst during the 1930s.
Many more people became ensnared in “Cabaret” when Bob Fosse’s multi-Oscar-winning film with Grey and Liza Minnelli appeared, which included new songs (“Maybe This Time”).
Revivals followed. And then, in 1998, director Sam Mendes and choreographer Rob Marshall brought us a production that was almost like a poke in the eye, startling, even shocking.
Gone were Grey and the tuxedo. The new Emcee, initially played by Alan Cumming, wore suspenders without a shirt, had tattoos and shot up heroin. The Kit Kat girls were even earthier than usual and Sally Bowles (played by Natasha Richardson and Emma Stone, among many) portrayed her closer to the ground and with fewer gifts than Liza.
“Cabaret” means a lot to Lori Eure, a Broadway performer of many talents. She was in the 1998 Broadway revival, the first national tour and several other tours. Now she is appearing at the Kennedy Center as one of the Kit Kat Girls.
“It’s been a big part of my life for sure. I always come back to it,” said the North Carolina native, who has been in “Women of Woodstock,” “Wonderland,” “The Buddy Holly Story,” “We Will Rock You” (in Las Vegas) and “Beehive” at the Kennedy Center.
Eure is a real Broadway baby, steeped in the lore, experience and life of the Great White Way. She plays several instruments, acts, sings, taps, dances and in this production is a swing performer, doubling up for all the Kit Kats. She’s also dance captain, which essentially means she is the glue that holds things together, and she backs up the role of Fraulein Kost.
She’s been Sally Bowles, too, when she understudied the part on the national tour.
“I love the film, of course,” she said. “But.” She commented that “someone as talented as Liza Minelli’s Sally would never had stayed in that place for long. She had talents and gifts.”
So does Eure. “Basically, you have to sing in a way that shows her limitations as a performer and singer, that she’s spirited, but also desperate and kind of lost. She knows who she is but stays in there, hoping. And all around is that atmosphere of darkness and danger. I loved being able to be her.”
She also tries to put on her own stamp on the Kit Kat crew and performers. She plays several instruments, including the accordion and the piano.
Talking with her, you get a sense of a woman who chose a life she loves, who was trained as a classical performer, who grew up loving Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. “I went to the big city and did the usual things — waitressing, bartending, odd jobs to stay in there so you can do what you love. In doing so, touring, for instance, it’s as if you have a family every time. And you see so much of this country, and reactions are always different in every city.”
With her multitasking on “Cabaret,” she says, “things kind of overlap, and the thing of it is, you never know what’s going to happen. Each night, really, is different. That’s theater, that’s this show.”