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Theater: Alan Cumming interviews on his return to 'Cabaret'

After 16 years, Alan Cumming reprises his Tony Award-winning turn as the Emcee in "Cabaret." We spoke to him about looking back and what happens next.

Cabaret Alan Cumming Welcome back, old chum: Life is a "Cabaret" for Alan Cumming, then and now.
Credit: Joan Marcus

After 16 years and a Tony Award, Alan Cumming returns to his “life-changing” role as the Emcee in “Cabaret,” which opened April 24 at Studio 54. We spoke to the Scottish actor about what the musical has meant in his life, what’s changed since last time and what might come next for the star of film and stage (hint: definitely not “X-Men: The Musical”).

What made you decide to come back to ‘Cabaret’?
Well it was a variety of things, but I just felt like it was the right time. I felt like it would be fun, I felt like enough time had passed. This show has so much to say, and it’s a message that needs to be repeated.

What’s different this time around?
Sixteen years later, my body definitely feels different. Mostly it’s different in that I was so overwhelmed when I came to New York in 1998, I had no way to place the experience I was having — the show being such a success, me being so welcomed to New York. It was amazing, but it was a little overwhelming and crazy. And it’s lovely: Now that I’ve been around the block a bit, I can enjoy the experience of doing it and the effect it had a little more.

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So you must have a strong connection with the role of Emcee; what does the character mean to you personally?
In a way he’s not really a character — like most characters you play — he is the Master of Ceremonies of the whole evening of theater. I don’t really act with other people. It’s a puppeteer sort of role. So I don’t really think of it in that way. But [performing the part has] done amazing things for me over the years, at various times. When I came to New York, my whole life started changing. So that’s why it was kind of nice to come back, widen the circle, and it might as well happen this time, you know?

How is Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles?
I’ve enjoyed working with her, I’ve enjoyed seeing her create this character. I have admiration for her and how she works and this performance she’s giving. It’s her first musical and her first Broadway — I think she’s amazing in it. She brings her own interpretation.

Do you enjoy performing with the cabaret tables in the orchestra and moving through the audience?
What I like about that is it makes the audience feel like they’re in the play — it’s immersive theater, in a way, even though it’s not presented to you in that way. I really enjoy the fact that as soon as you come into the theater it’s a new environment. It helps to have the right effect, because everyone feels like they’re really in that club.

Do you think that your celebrity would prevent participating in a full-on immersive piece?
It would obviously depend on what the thing was — if it intended on me coming on as a person, it wouldn’t work. I did a few performances of “Sleep No More.” People knew it was me, but I was also playing a role. So it worked. This was a few years ago, I did a couple of performances at Halloween.

If you could choose a favorite role to play from any —
I don’t, I don’t, I hate this question. I just don’t have one and don’t want to make up some rubbish thing. I just see what comes along.

Well now that they’ve done “Spider-Man,” what if they did an “X-Men” musical? Would you want anything to do with that?
No. I don’t really want to talk about X-Men musicals — it’s not my thing.

 
 
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