Eddie Redmayne, Gayle Rankin
Eddie Redmayne, Gayle Rankin

Eddie Redmayne & Gayle Rankin Bring Audiences into the Kit Kat Club

Starting April 1, a hearty “Willkommen” awaits at the enticing and electrifying Kit Kat Club (a.k.a., the August Wilson Theatre) on 52nd Street on Broadway. The London transfer of the 2022 Olivier Award–winning revival of Cabaret is one of the most highly anticipated musicals of the spring season. Tony-winning actor Eddie Redmayne is set to reprise his performance of the Emcee, a role he won an Olivier for when he opened the show in the West End. He’ll be joined by actress Gayle Rankin, who is new to this production of Cabaret, taking on the show’s leading lady, Sally Bowles. Entertainment journalist for Spectrum News NY1 Frank DiLella caught up with both Redmayne and Rankin to talk their love of Cabaret and much more.

Eddie, congratulations on the Broadway transfer of this brilliant revival. How are you feeling knowing you’re once again taking on the Emcee in Cabaret?

EDDIE REDMAYNE: Thanks so much. Honestly, this is one of the pieces that made me fall in love with theater as a kid, so the fact that I got to play this iconic part on stage professionally in London was truly a bucket-list moment fulfilled. But when I was about 9 or 10, I became oddly obsessed with New York. London was home, but I was always looking at photographs of New York, researching the place. When I eventually came to the city and went to Times Square, it was one of those completely overwhelming sensations. I remember my whole body reacting. So the idea that I now get the chance to play this part in this show that I’m so passionate about in the mecca of musical theater — which is Broadway — is beautifully daunting and also 100 percent thrilling!

Gayle, Cabaret seems to be your show. You were part of the 2014 Roundabout revival with Alan Cumming — you played Fraulein Kost.

GAYLE RANKIN: I can’t tell you how moving it is to have worked on Cabaret a decade ago, and after lovingly letting it go, it’s come back to me with the gargantuan gift of Sally. [Laughs.] It is my show! I feel wildly privileged to be able to say that. I know I have to continue to earn that privilege because of what the show is and what it means. But I have never felt more ready to do that now, inside of this amazing production and with this incredible group of artists.

Eddie, when were you first introduced to Cabaret?

ER: I was first introduced to it when I was in school; I was around 15 or 16, and there was a little production being done at my school. And that was the first time I listened to the music. I remember hunting down all the possible CD versions I could find. I remember looking for a production to see, but there were none playing in London, so the very first production I ever saw of Cabaret was, randomly, the Spanish version in Madrid — and it was the Sam Mendes version, but in Spanish! I was 19 and completely blown away. Since then, I saw Emma Stone and Alan Cumming do it brilliantly in New York, and of course Rufus Norris’s version in London. I’m a sort of Cabaret junkie.

How about you, Gayle?

GR: The first time I was introduced to it was when I was in a musical-theater program in Scotland and one of the other young women had been given the song “Maybe This Time,” and I remember being like, “Wow! What a song!” That’s when I was introduced to Cabaret as a property.

Eddie, it’s my understanding that you were instrumental with making this production of Cabaret take shape.

ER: Ha! It’s been a long old road. After I did Cabaret in school in my late teens, there was an amateur production of Cabaret going to the Edinburgh Festival, and I got cast in that, and the venue that we were doing the show in was called The Underbelly. It was dark and damp and people were sitting around tables. I loved every minute, and it affirmed my want to be an actor. The guys who set up that venue became producers professionally and the Underbelly transformed to become a brilliant venue and producing house in the U.K. They approached me about seven years ago and asked if I would ever consider doing Cabaret again. It had always been on my bucket list, and I thought long and hard about it — as I said, it’s dream territory. Then Jessie Buckley leapt into my mind, who is an extraordinary actor and singer, and she and I plotted together. We both approached the brilliant director Rebecca Frecknall, and piece by piece this thing built momentum. But it had been done so beautifully and vividly before, we only wanted to do it if we could find a new way in, something that perhaps hadn’t been explored before.  And with Rebecca, the brilliant Tom Scutt, Julia Cheng, and Jordan Fein — our designer, choreographer, and prologue director — we took on this idea of inviting an audience through the underbelly of the theatre, taking them through this experience so by the time they arrive in the theatre, they’ve truly left all their troubles outside.

Eddie, you’re taking on one of the great roles of the musical theater, the Emcee, and I have to say, having seen you on stage in London, your Emcee is different compared to Joel Grey’s and Alan Cumming’s.

ER: I think one of the reasons he’s such an appealing part is because he’s one of the most enigmatic parts that I’ve ever read, witnessed, or experienced. The Emcee was a part that was created by Joel and Hal Prince [director of the original Cabaret] to join scenes together. He has no literary basis. So in some ways, the part exists in an abstract way. One of the things that I tried to do when I first started was I attempted to rationalize him and create a backstory. But the second you try to pin him down, he falls flat — he’s too quixotic for that. In the end it became trying to find a way into him physically and through instinct alone. It felt like a high-wire act. But a thrilling one.

Gayle, Sally Bowles is one of the great female roles in musical theater. Who is your Sally?

GR: My Sally is close to me. I think she’s only to be known truly by me. Sally can infamously live in a space where she can be pitied to people, and I don’t think that’s the whole story. There’s more to be told about her. And I feel compelled to take that on.

Do you feel that your experience of doing the 2014 Cabaret revival with Alan Cumming, where you played a Kit Kat Club girl and Fraulein Kost, prepped you for Sally?

GR: How could it not? For something to live inside of you both consciously and unconsciously — I hope I’ve evolved as a person and as an artist, and I feel like I’ve never been more ready to take Sally on. And I feel like I’m a big enough girl to admit the 2014 production — I was not in a place or was the right person to play Sally even though I had the time of my life with that show.

Sally gets some amazing musical moments. “Maybe This Time,” “Cabaret,” “Don’t Tell Mama” … Favorite tune in the show?

GR: It’s always been “I Don’t Care Much” [sung by the Emcee]. Sally’s songs are almost too meaningful; I can’t pick one, they’re like children. [Laughs.] But there’s something about “I Don’t Care Much” that’s so essential to the conversation and the story and lives inside of all those characters. This longing for hope during so much horror. That song just moves me.

Gayle, take me to your opening night, when you take your bow as Sally Bowles.

GR: [Laughs.] Frank! What a question. Now I’m crying. My niece will be there, and she’s 12, and I’ll probably be looking at her. I’ll probably be tired. [Laughs.] I think I’m going to be really happy.

This show is quite the experience. Give a little preview of what New York audiences can expect once they enter the Kit Kat Club.

ER: I can’t paint that picture for you just yet because it’s in the process of being built and designed by Tom Scutt. Tom Scutt is one of the most thrilling creative minds I’ve had the privilege to work with. What his plans are for New York are completely captivating. The idea is that you’re brought in as an audience not through the conventional way of the theatre — you’re met by an entire prologue cast of dancers and musicians. You are submerged into the world of Cabaret from the second you pass the threshold. For me, I hope it makes the experience — you will feel like you’re part of an all-consuming event. You will also get to witness Gayle’s Sally — Gayle is a volcano of talent — Bebe Neuwirth’s Fraulein Schneider, Ato Blankson-Wood’s Cliff, Steven Skybell’s Schultz. A staggering ensemble — the list goes on. So many exciting things.

Eddie, you’re following in the footsteps of two celebrated actors who played the role of the Emcee: Joel Grey and Alan Cumming. Any interaction with them?

ER: I haven’t with Alan since I’ve played it. I met Alan in Los Angeles years ago and he’s just an extraordinary talent. Joel, I had never met, but then I got through the first act of Cabaret on opening night in London, and at the interval some flowers arrived and I opened the card and it was from Joel Grey. And in the midst of our opening night show, opening his generous card was one of the great moments.

I was so haunted by this production when I saw it in London. The time feels right to see and experience Cabaret.

ER: There is something so searingly relevant with this piece. And I feel like whenever Cabaret is being done, it’s relevant. But with what’s going on in the world today, I feel like it’s a cautionary tale — it sings loudly and clear and it’s this idea of the fear of the other. The political gain of “othering” people. And that constant repetition of scapegoating and hatred is what we’re seeing in our politics now.

GR: I’m not sure what John Kander and Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff were channeling when they were writing this — they were able to tap into something that’s so cyclical. And as a humanity, I think we all hope that Cabaret becomes not as relevant as it is.

Learn More About Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club