Alan Cumming, in 'Cabaret,' Finds Decadence Is Hard Work


Who knew seedy was such a hard look to pull off? Alan Cumming, who is reviving his role as the Emcee in Cabaret in New York, takes an hour every night to apply make-up, scars, bruises, tattoos and track marks—and slip into his kinky costumes.

In both the 1966 Broadway musical and 1972 Bob Fosse film of Cabaret, Joel Grey played the Emcee as impish and asexual, in a top hat and tails. In contrast, Mr. Cumming gives us a sexually omnivorous Emcee in suspenders and a bow tie over his bare chest, and a cod piece under his pants.

Mr. Cumming says that when he first took the role, he was unprepared for the blitzkrieg of attention: "I had just come to New York, this was the first show I'd ever done here, and the whole explosion was a little daunting." The 1998 show got a Tony for Best Musical Revival, and Mr. Cumming and co-star Natasha Richardson, who played cabaret singer Sally Bowles, won awards as well.

In this production, Michelle Williams is playing Bowles. Mr. Cumming, who has performed opposite a bevy of Sallys, says she is the "most mysterious" of them: "She plays it like this eccentric little waif."

Behind the scenes, staff are reviving their roles as well: Mr. Cumming's dresser from 16 years ago, Kimberly Mark, is back to help him in and out of his trousers each night. "It's like an assembly line," she says of their carefully choreographed routine. "I help him untie a boot, he'll do the other one, then I'll pull his feet up and pull the pants over them, and then while he's standing I get behind him and pull up the suspenders."












And when he's done MC'ing the Kit Kat Club, Ms. Mark MC's his dressing room: waiting for him each night with a vodka soda and a protein shake (not in the same glass) and chatting with his friends and fans as Mr. Cumming transforms back into himself.