“Wilkommen. Bienvenue. Welcome. …” From the opening line of the first song, it’s clear that whoever you are, wherever you’re from, and whatever your tastes, you are welcome at the Kit Kat Klub — the 1930s seedy Berlin nightclub that serves as the setting for the 12-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Cabaret.”
Now celebrating its 50th year on stage, “Cabaret” will commandeer the Saenger Theatre April 5-10, with its raucous, unconventional style that tells the story of love found and lost under the shadows of pre-World War II Germany.
“It’s gritty, smart, challenging and dirty, but in a fun way,” said Randy Harrison, who plays the Emcee, a role that could be described in exactly the same way. Harrison says this latest adaptation of “Cabaret” — produced by Roundabout Theatre Company and presented by Academy Award-winning film directors Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) and Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) — is an amalgamation of all the best qualities of past Broadway and London revivals. “All the best songs are in there, including some from the (1972) film (starring Liza Minelli).”
A veteran of the stage and screen, New Hampshire native Harrison is not one to shy away from edgy roles, having starred for five seasons on the Showtime drama, “Queer as Folk” in the role of teenager Justin Taylor.
“I played a young man coming of age, falling in love and coming to terms with his sexuality,” he said. “It was my first time in front of a camera.”
This current role, however, he said has to be his favorite. “It’s a dream to play this role made famous by the incredible Alan Cumming. I get to do so many things — dress in drag, dance with a gorilla. It’s my job to interact with the audience, comment on the action and propel it forward. And within all of this, I get to dance and sing in so many different styles. It’s really a dream come true.”
The main story of “Cabaret” centers on 19-year-old cabaret performer Sally Bowles, who falls in love with an American writer in Germany. As life beyond the walls of the nightclub becomes more and more unhinged, so too, does the young relationship and Bowles herself.
“Sally is this incredible character that is charming and funny — a real party girl,” said Andrea Goss, who plays the role in the touring production. “But underneath it all, she’s really just this scared, 19-year-old child.”
The Oregon native says she’s thrilled to finally claim the role after understudying for Hollywood actresses Michelle Williams, Emma Stone and Sienna Miller in the production while it played at New York City’s Studio 54.
“I think the writing of the show is what draws so many actors in,” she said. “You just don’t get writing like this very often.”
While the schedule can be grueling — eight performances a week since the tour started in late January — Goss says with every performance she’s still discovering something new about her tortured character.
“It’s one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever had, and I find that exciting. Plus, I get to sing some of the most well-known songs in musical theater history.”
All at once a love story, a celebration of decadence, and a powerful political commentary, both actors said the production remains, sadly, especially relevant 50 years later.
“When the Nazis first came into being, they were laughed off, dismissed,” said Harrison. “Everybody thought that they would never have real power. But then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t so funny anymore. They tapped into the anger of the populace in a really dangerous way and motivated political action. Today, we are still asking ourselves, ‘How did the Holocaust happen?’ And we need to keep asking these questions. It’s scary how current this show is, and maybe always will be.”
But in the meantime, “Life is a Cabaret, old chum. Come to the Cabaret.”