Emma Stone radiates on-screen chemistry in the movies; so it’s hard to expect anything less on Broadway, where she’s currently playing Sally Bowles, the decadent, yet vulnerable singer in the hit musical Cabaret. No surprise, she largely delivers.
Sally is a complex role that has been essayed by some of the most renown actresses over its many revivals, including the incomparable Liza Minnelli.
Jill Haworth played Sally when Cabaret debuted on Broadway in 1966, kicking off more than 1,100 performances that saw Anita Gillette and Melissa Hart also play the part.
But Minnelli defined the role in the 1972 movie version directed by Bob Fosse. She was joined by Michael York and Joel Grey, who reprised his role from Broadway.
The part is complicated because Sally is equal parts a flamboyant exhibitionist and decadent party girl, who also harbors deep insecurities mostly driven by hear fear of being alone and destitute.
Plus there’s the requisite singing and a dancing. Sally is supposed to be an amateurish performer, who can barely sing and dance. But Minnelli erased that image when she brought her huge talent to the role.
Actresses since then have been forced to find a way to make the role their own while avoiding weak comparisons.
Stone’s other problem is she’s played mostly good girl roles in the movies. When she took the step to Broadway, a big question followed her: Could she bring credibility to the character and make Sally Bowles believable”
Judging from early reviews, she’s succeeding on all fronts.
Stone took over the role from Michelle Williams and has managed to put her personal stamp on the role, according to early reviews.
Writes Marilyn Stasio in Variety: There’s more to Sally Bowles than the wild child who fled boring old England for the danger and decadence of Weimar Berlin. Underneath the persona of the naughty girl who made a career of singing and dancing and prostituting herself at the Kit Kat Club is a vulnerable young woman out of her depth in this wicked city, terrified of being broke, of being without a man, of being alone. That’s the Sally that Michelle Williams played in her pink baby-doll outfits. Barely acknowledging that side of Sally, Stone goes straight to the little tramp who immediately took to the divinely decadent society of underworld Berlin.
While Stone is less of a singer and dancer than those who played the role before, she is an actor who knows how to play a part and she brings her intelligence and energy to the role. Nowhere is that more evident than when Sally becomes desperate and reaches out to the kind-hearted, but naive American writer, Cliff, played by Bill Heck, according to the trade.
Stone also brings youthful exuberance to the role. If you imagine Sally, you would think of her as a young, twenty-something woman, full of sexual energy. Although that works against her at times, as well, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Writes EW’s Marc Snetiker: Stone is a charismatic firecracker, and she brings that infectious excitability here—although perhaps a bit too much. She is eight years Williams’ junior, but her Sally feels decades younger, and the added youth changes Sally’s emotional barometer from selected ignorance to genuine obliviousness. There’s a layer of scorched earth that doesn’t quite exist in Stone’s Sally; for instance, in the case of torch song ”Maybe This Time,” performed by the actress with vigor, she doesn’t quite make one believe she’s been down this road numerous times before.
Among some of the harder-edged critics, Stone also managed to win plaudits.
Writes Alex Needham of the UK’s Guardian: Liza Minnelli amped up the “divine decadence”, giving the role an aesthetic that chimed perfectly with the times. In 1972, when the film was released, Sally Bowles was as much a part of glam rock as David Bowie and Roxy Music. Stone’s interpretation is more fragile and hesitant – though Sally warns her putative suitor Cliff Bradshaw not to ask questions about her background, it’s easy to imagine her as a convent girl gone bad, kind of a Marianne Faithfull of the 30s. With flaming red hair that could be seen from row Z, she has the glamour but perhaps not the seediness; you never believe that she lives on gin and prairie oysters. When it come to her big numbers, however, she delivers. “Maybe This Time” locates the vulnerability inside the camp, and Stone gives a bravura performance of the title song, at once defiant, pathetic and heroic.
Whatever Stone lacks she makes up for with her intensity and sexual energy and the way she throws herself into the role.
Writes Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post: Stone is a little vocally underpowered when she tells us to “come to the cabaret,” but she acts out that title song with an intensity as scary as it is controlled. Her pale skin glowing against her black slip, Stone’s Sally has the seething fury of someone who’s sided with the devil — and it’s thrilling to watch.
Stone will appear in the show through Feb. 1. It’s playing at Studio 54; 893 seats; running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.
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