Review: Emma Stone in Cabaret

Written by Marisa Carpico

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Plot: Set in 1931, Cabaret tells the story of Cliff Bradshaw (Bill Heck), an American novelist who comes to Berlin and gets wrapped up in the exciting, torrid work of the Kit Kat Klub and its principal performer, Sally Bowles (Emma Stone).

I had been waffling on buying tickets to Cabaret since the previews started. Sure, the musical on stage and this production was getting rave reviews and, yeah, Alan Cumming’s performance as the Emcee is rumored to be can’t-miss, but good God those tickets were expensive. Everyone who had seen it said there was no point in going unless you shelled out $100 or more for the good seats.

I had pretty much decided to skip it until news broke that Emma Stone would be taking over for Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles from November 11th to February 1st. That settled it. I bought tickets immediately – in the nosebleeds because I still couldn’t justify the price – and arrived at the theater hoping Stone would at least be good enough not to embarrass herself. Imagine my shock when she not only translated the charisma she has on screen to the stage, but turned out to have a strong singing voice too.

Though that wasn’t terribly clear at first. Other than an intro during “Wilkommen” that’s built for getting some early applause (which the audience gave enthusiastically), Stone doesn’t get a number until about 20 minutes into the show. Even then, it’s “Don’t Tell Mama,” a cheeky song where Sally is supposed to sound like a pouty child. Stone’s abilities didn’t really become clear until her next number, the thrilling “Mein Herr.” The song itself is an exercise in breathing control and it’s made even more difficult by the energetic dancing in the song’s second half. I was winded just watching it. Stone didn’t seem a bit fazed. In fact, she exhibited impressive control of her voice throughout the show, which can only be expected from a Broadway veteran, not a Hollywood starlet in their Broadway debut.

It shouldn’t have been so shocking, though. Stone got her start in the business on the 2005 reality singing competition, The New Partridge Family. Her voice has matured since then, but it’s still no match for Liza Minelli’s from the 1972 film version of Cabaret. Not that it really should be. Sally is supposed to have a decent if unremarkable voice and while Minelli’s rendition of the torch song “Maybe This Time” burns a little brighter than Stone’s, the latter is still effective. While Stone’s age (26) should make it a little hard to believe that she is as world-weary as that song suggests, she’s a strong enough actress to pull it off. She’s strong in all of her dramatic moments, especially in “Cabaret,” when she isn’t afraid to little shrill on the big notes. But it’s her comedic moments that really stand out.

“Perfectly Marvelous” is a song a gifted comedienne can run with. Stone does, taking every opportunity within the song to coo seductively during the sexier lines, and pulls a face during the cleverer moments. Her best moment is in the scene leading up to the song, involving prairie oysters and a toothpaste cup. Most of which had the audience in raucous laughter.

For those who might not be Stone’s biggest fans, there are plenty of other things to enjoy. Alan Cumming is spectacular as the Emcee, reprising the role after first playing it in the 1998 revival. Seriously, he should just play this role for the rest of his career for how much he gets out of every single line. Yet like a truly great performer, he clearly leaves room to riff based on the audience’s energy. I couldn’t help thinking that if I saw the play again, it would be a different show. And, honestly, I just might. Even nearly 50 years after its first run on Broadway and over 70 years after the story is set, the play feels strikingly relevant. But, then again, fighting against racism and sexual discrimination is important in any era.

Rating: 9/10

Emma Stone will perform in Cabaret through Feb. 1, 2015. Click here for tickets.

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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.