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Opinion: Cabaret and the Divide Between Broadway and the West End

Gayle Rankin as Sally Bowles in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Life is a cabaret, they say, but maybe that doesn't ring as true for audiences in New York – who are stepping into the reimagined Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson Theatre for the first time this season. The latest revival of Kander and Ebb's Cabaret, which has been delighting West End audiences since 2021, seems to have struck a nerve with audiences and critics alike on the other side of the pond, as the reception for the show has been notably more frosty. So, what's causing the difference of opinion? Let's talk about it.

In New York, Cabaret is revered for its past productions, notably starring Alan Cumming and Joel Grey. It's played multiple theatres across its various runs, and seen everyone from Emma Stone and Natasha Richardson to Neil Patrick Harris and John Stamos join its companies. The show has been seen more infrequently in London, yet has become a West End staple with its latest outing.

The difference in reception for this latest rendition of the show is likely down to a number of factors, which aren't inherently the fault of the production. The immersive nature of the show is more familiar to London audiences, as immersive theatre and experiences are more common than they are in New York. It's also more experimental in nature, something that may not cater to those looking to see a big blockbuster Broadway show. And it would be remiss to not mention that the socio-political context of Cabaret itself may be hitting a bit too close to home in America, where there is the potential for an ex-president that caused mass riots at the nation's capital to be re-elected, where basic human rights are seemingly always up for debate, and where the debate surrounding anti-semitism is conflict in the Middle East is playing out in real time on college campuses across the nation. These collection of circumstances don't necessarily work in the show's favour, especially when you consider that it was announced for British audiences as post-COVID lockdown restrictions began to ease up in the UK, marking a return to the arts and presenting a true spectacle to welcome audiences back to the theatre.

Should the frosty reception prevent anyone from seeing Cabaret? As always, opinions should be formed from lived experience, not just the thoughts of others. It's an experience that's worth exploring, whether to experience a different presentation of a much-loved musical, or to dip your toe into more immersive experiences. Broadway and the West End cater to different audiences and while theatrical experiences across the two may differ, they both remain stalwarts of standard for theatre in their respective cities and offer much to the cultural landscapes of the US and the UK - but more on that later.


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