The Newbie and the Emcee: Alan Cumming Welcomes Michelle Williams to Cabaret
Michelle Williams gasps: “I haven’t seen a bus with Cabaret on it, and we just drove past one,” she says from her car. “There’s no face on the bus, thank God. Oh, look—there’s a Jersey Boys bus. There’s a Newsies bus! I never noticed all these musical buses!” She’s headed to rehearsal for her Broadway debut as Sally Bowles (opening April 24), and this MTA moment is one of many novel ones she’s had lately. “Every time I rehearse, there’s a tiny bubble of a breakthrough,” she says. “And now those are happening in front of people.” She emits a nervous laugh. In her first previews, she says, she’s realized “how many things you can be thinking while you’re performing: There’s a thousand people out there … Oh, I really need to tack this slip to the dress, ’cause it’s getting stuck when I lift this … Didn’t really land that as well as I did the last time. And you’re singing and you’re dancing at the same time!”
Her co-star Alan Cumming is, by comparison, an old Broadway hand. (He played the lascivious Emcee in 1998 and won a Tony.) What he’s finding new, he says, is watching Williams “become more multilayered and fragile” as Sally—but he’s seen it mostly from the wings. “We don’t really connect [onstage]. I introduce her three times, I think, and that’s it!” Sally “exists in the real world of the play, and the Emcee is more of an ethereal presence. But they’re both hanging on in a world that’s changing.” Williams, for her part, sought out the traces of that world, traveling to Berlin’s Hotel Adlon (“Sally’s favorite place”), visiting the apartment of Christopher Isherwood (on whose stories the show is based), exploring places where “someone like Sally might have performed—which are now organic grocery stores but have a picture of Marlene Dietrich hanging in the front. We went looking for an intact ballroom, but it was more of a rave.”
*This article appeared in the April 7, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.
I’ve updated our gallery with HD screen captures of Prozac Nation, donated by my friend Claudia from christinaricci.net. Check it:
I came across this beautiful photoshoot Michelle did back in 2012 while promoting ‘My Week With Marilyn’:
As she’d be the first to tell you, Michelle Williams, a movie star with practically no experience as a singer and dancer, was not an obvious choice to play the nightclub entertainer Sally Bowles in “Cabaret.” She is making her Broadway debut in the role, at Studio 54, in the Roundabout Theater Company’s resuscitation of its legendary 1998 production, which brings back Alan Cumming in his Tony-winning turn as the Emcee. But she got the job only after Emma Stone (who does have a modest background in musical theater and, because of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” is more recognizable as well) dropped out.
“They didn’t call it an audition,” Ms. Williams said, recalling her first meeting with the show’s co-directors, Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall, who is also the choreographer. “But that’s what it was, and I’m fine with that. Sally was never a first choice. That’s why she had to go to Berlin.”
Even smaller in person than she looks on screen, Ms. Williams, 33, does not have a big-movie-star manner. She’s shy, earnest, thoughtful, and after being swarmed by the press following the 2008 death of Heath Ledger, with whom she had a daughter, a little wary of publicity.