"I didn't see Cummings in it, but I did see Michael C. Hall, [the gay son] from Six Feet Under, who was amazing," Sloan says. "Of course, I was in awe of the reinvention of the show but had no idea I would eventually be doing it."
When Cabaret opened, the character who plays the emcee in a Berlin nightclub on the eve of the Third Reich was billed fifth in the program. That he is now always second, after the actress playing the show's bruised and jittery heroine, Sally Bowles, speaks as much to Cummings' indelible performance as it does about the character's ultimate importance. He is, after all, the first and last voice we hear, the liquid nitrogen that runs through the evening. Sally may get the most-famous songs, but she's too fragile to tie her shoelaces -- much less a show -- together.
What has also grown more explicit over the years is the emcee's boundary-blurring sexuality. "It's genuine bisexuality," Sloan says. "He's equally dispersed, with the best of both worlds at his beck and call." His song "Two Ladies" has shifted from a ditty with two chorus girls to an exchange with one chorus girl and one boy from the band -- a scene that includes simulated sodomy.
In the original production's glossy program, lyricist Fred Ebb wrote that the show had been suggested by Harold Prince, its eventual director. Prince had been toying with the idea of musicalizing I Am a Camera, John van Druten's straight play version of Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. "Read about it. Listen to the music of that era. It'll grow on you," Prince reportedly told Ebb and his musical collaborator, John Kander.
Kander and Ebb's first version of Cabaret included five songs to be performed by the club's entertainers in succession. But when Prince and the book's author, Joe Masteroff, heard the songs, they had the idea of spreading them throughout the evening. They also asked the question that certified the emcee's prominence: "Couldn't he be the amoral, bawdy sensuality behind which we play the terror of the coming Nazi regime?"
Of course, whoever plays Sally Bowles is considered the show's star. From Liza Minnelli's Oscar-winning film version to Molly Ringwald, the current New York Sally, the role inspires much debate. Sally is supposed to be dubiously talented, and the actress should reflect that with shaky certitude; it should be acted perfectly rather than sung well, as was done on Broadway by such intense thespians as Jennifer Jason Leigh.
"No, she's not a good singer or dancer," Sloan says of the character, adding a statement that applies equally to the show: "But she has so much energy; she's electric."