Cabaret is returning to Broadway next month for its ninth major production in one of the two greatest holy cities of theatre: New York and London. That’s right, nine times. Let’s count the ways: Broadway opening in 1966, West End opening in 1968, London 1986 revival, Broadway 1987 revival, London 1993 revival, Broadway 1998 revival, London 2006 revival, London 2012 revival, and the upcoming Broadway 2014 revival (not to mention a 1972 film adaptation). Whew! That’s not an accomplishment many musicals can claim. What is it about this show that makes it so enduring? What makes it a force that keeps popping up again and again, demanding to be seen and heard? Let’s take a closer look.
About a year ago, I was gifted a copy of With A Crack In Her Voice, which is the biography of Dame Judith Olivia “Judi” Dench. First of all, I absolutely recommend it. It’s lovely reading and clear that the author, John Miller, is rather fond of his subject. Also, it’s rather inexpensive to get your hands on. I can’t find a copy that costs more than twenty dollars, frankly.
Anyway, I cracked (sorry!) it open again today and was reminded how much I adore the woman, and so chose to share those feelings with you, gentle readers.
My affection for this woman, who has acted in at least fifteen films, more television, and much more theatre, is without bounds. To her credit, she has an Oscar, a Tony, seven Olivier Awards, two SAG awards, and more BAFTAs than I can imagine she knows what to do with. But, her long and storied career begins in the theatre, so I’ll show you that. (Also, it’s my favorite.)
In 1968, a 33-year-old Judi Dench receives rave reviews for her performance as Sally Bowles in the original London run of Cabaret (from which the title of her biography comes), showcasing what turned out to be impressive vocal talents. I say “turned out to be” because anecdotes suggest that she was so embarrassed to sing in public that she auditioned from the wings and got the part.
The late 70s has Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellan as the title couple in a production of Macbeth which was widely lauded. Of her performance, critic Michael Billington wrote:
“If this isn’t great acting, I don’t know what is.”
After missing out on a leading role in Cats in 1981, in 1995 she plays Desiree Armfeldt in Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. For this performance, she won the Laurence Olivier Award.
After this, her film career begins to take off in earnest. You may have seen her being incredible in The Chronicles of Riddick, Chocolat, Quantum of Solace, Pride & Prejudice, Nine, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel among others.
In any case, all told, she’s an objectively fabulous human being. She came to her magnificent acting career by way of training in set design, and it is always my greatest sadness to repeat the fact she has chosen to begin drawing down her career due to macular degeneration, crediting this with her choice to leave the role of M in the Bond films. In fact, for her most recent films, scripts must be read to her. She has, however, remarked that she has no intentions to retire yet.
Just to say it on more time, I have the utmost respect and admiration for Judi Dench, who has become the First Lady of British Theatre. Although, she does have some interesting feelings about being considered a national treasure. And while it makes me sad that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, she does have an unequivocal belief that she, and all women, “should have their say.” All evidence indicates that she is possessed of the all the grace and fire of her youth.
I’ll leave you with this clip of the Dame signing autographs after a performance of Yukio Mishima’s Madame de Sade.