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November 17, 2018

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The Smith Center:

Willkommen! ‘Cabaret’ remains relevant half a century later

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Joan Marcus

“Cabaret,” starring Randy Harrison as the MC, is at the Smith Center from Tuesday, June 14, through Sunday, June 19, 2016, in downtown Las Vegas.

‘Cabaret’ at Smith Center

“Cabaret” is at the Smith Center from Tuesday, June 14, through Sunday, June 19, 2016, in downtown Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Cabaret in 1972

Cabaret in 1972

Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey

My first taste of Broadway was watching the musical “Cabaret” in 1966 shortly after arriving in New York from England. It was outrageously shocking even by free world standards.

Here we are 50 years later, and the 1931 story of seedy nightlife at Berlin’s Kit Kat Klub as Nazis rose to power is still going strong.

The Tony Award-winning best musical in 1966 and its 1998 revival blasts off again Tuesday with eight shows of its North American tour at the Smith Center complete with underwear- and thigh-high-stocking-clad female Kit Kat Klub musicians bidding “Willkommen.”

Since its Broadway debut half a century ago, “Cabaret” has become an Academy Award-winning movie with Oscar winners Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey and stage productions in England, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, France and Latvia — but not Germany.

“Cabaret’s” lyrics by Fred Ebb and music by John Kander established Kander & Ebb, and their hit music is still as hummable and finger-snapping years later.

The half-dressed decadent MC commentating on the ominous politics of Hitler has been played by Joel and Alan Cumming, who won a Tony as the MC.

“Cabaret” appropriately took over the decadent Studio 54 nightclub for its 1998 revival and ran an astounding 2,377 performances, becoming the third-longest-running revival in Broadway history.

Lea Thompson was among the actresses in the revival. The original ran another 1,165 shows. In its Boston previews, audience members walked out when swastikas were shown onstage.

Now the contemptible subject matter stars Randy Harrison, Justin Taylor from Showtime’s “Queer As Folk,” as the MC. Like Alan, Randy wears his sexualized suspenders around his crotch and paints his nipples red.

In the final scene, it’s the ultimate shock when the MC reveals the striped suit of a concentration camp prisoner with its badges identifying Jews and homosexuals. I pray for a moment of silence by the Las Vegas cast acknowledging the weekend massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Leading lady Sally Bowles is played by Andrea Goss and her boyfriend by Lee Aaron Rosen. In the show, she goes for an abortion after a threesome with her bisexual writer beau.

This storyline doesn’t hold back on anything. Another subplot is the doomed romance between their anti-Semitic landlady and her older fruit-shop owner who is Jewish.

When I interviewed the show’s original director Hal Prince last year onstage at the Smith Center, he told us that controversy is good for theater even if audiences aren’t ready for it. The Las Vegas run is directed by B.T. McNicholl with original songsmith Joe Masteroff.

The hit production is based on a 1951 play, “I Am a Camera” by John Van Druten, which was adapted from a 1939 short novel, “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood.

There were revivals in London for “Cabaret” and the latest — and third — in New York was in 2014 with director Sam Mendes (“Spectre,” “Skyfall” and Oscar winner for “American Beauty”). It marks the 50th anniversary of Roundabout Theater Co.’s original production.

Today, many Las Vegas nightclubs have model cocktail servers dressed like Kit Kat Klub girls, so the Frederick’s of Hollywood outfits at the Smith Center aren’t likely to shock anybody.

But after the weekend massacre in Florida, the ugly sting of the Nazi’s condemnation of homosexuality tragically still exists in today’s world. As we all recoil over the crazed ISIS-linked gunman at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, let us all remember that love has to conquer hate. Hate has no place in our world.

“Cabaret” is at Reynolds Hall in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts from Tuesday through Sunday, with nightly performances at 7:30 and additional 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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