Eddie Redmayne’s ‘Cabaret’ Emcee Divides Tonys Audience

On last night’s Tonys, the world outside the Kit Kat Club got its first glimpse at Eddie Redmayne’s take on the Emcee in the revival of Cabaret — dubbed Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club for its immersive elements — currently occupying Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre. Reaction to the interpretation has ranged from enraptured to bewildered.

The performance, which sees Redmayne contort like a broken marionette in a party hat, strays from previous incarnations of the character, who’s meant to evoke a kind of funhouse hedonism oblivious to the winds of Nazism gaining strength outside the cabaret doors.

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There was Joel Grey’s original take (on Broadway in 1966 and reprised in Bob Fosse’s landmark 1972 film version), a Mephistophelian character in white makeup and a too-large tuxedo. Then Alan Cumming sexed up the role in a 1993 revival envisioned by Sam Mendes.

Redmayne’s take, steered by London director Rebecca Frecknall, brings the character into more abstract and child-nightmare spaces.

Redmayne originated the role in 2021 on London’s West End, where THR praised the interpretation.

“Just as Cumming rebooted the persona of the Emcee created by Joel Grey, so Redmayne offers another, extravagant take of his own. From the moment he launches into ‘Willkommen,’ dressed in vest and baggy purple pants, a party hat perched on his head, his body arched, German accent harsh and mocking as he introduces his band of dancers, Redmayne exerts a mesmerizing hold that never falters,” THR‘s critic wrote.

“As we know from Les Miserables, he has a strong singing voice. He’s also quite the clothes horse, which serves an Emcee who is something of a chameleon abstraction, the perfect mirror both of the permissive decadence and freedom of self-expression of Weimar Berlin, and the evil to come.”

Reviews of the 2024 Broadway transfer were less universally taken with the performance. The Village Voice called it “a Cirque du Soleil meets demented puppet effect that’s often weird for weird’s sake,” while The Wrap described it as “a jumble of mannerisms” and a “rancid pretzel.”

But others enjoyed Redmayne’s spin: The Wall Street Journal said, “Mr. Redmayne lives up to his London acclaim, giving a savory, seductive performance as the Emcee” and The New York Times said the shapeshifting character later “effectively incarnates himself as a creepy clown, an undead skeleton, Sally’s twin and a glossy Nazi.”

The strange, big swing seems to be connecting with Broadway ticket buyers. Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club was the Great White Way’s highest grosser following the April 30 announcement of the Tony nominations. At the awards, it took home best scenic design for a musical for the sets by designer Tom Scutt.

It lost to Merrily We Roll Along, however, for best revival of a musical — stars Jonathan Groff and Daniel Radcliffe also took home awards — tickets for which will be scarce before the production closes July 7.

What are your thoughts on Redmayne’s divisive Emcee?