For Louisville’s theater scene, when it rains, it pours — and that’s a good thing. Next week, just as the Humana Festival of New American Plays launches into its first full week, PNC Broadway in Louisville brings the classic yet controversial “Cabaret” to town.
It’s the Roundabout Theatre Company‘s take of the popular musical, and they’ve essentially unbuttoned the Hollywood PG version of the storyline to reveal a more risqué theme that’s actually closer to the original 1966 production. So if you have images of Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey frolicking around a Berlin nightclub, be prepared for something a bit more dark, twisted and tantalizing.
At least that’s what star Randy Harrison, who plays the Emcee, warns. This certainly isn’t your mother’s “Cabaret.” Harrison — who most “Queer as Folk” fans know as Justin — steps into some pretty big shoes portraying the role of the Emcee. Grey made the character a Broadway favorite in the original production and in the film, and Alan Cumming also is synonymous with playing the Emcee in recent years, nabbing a handful of Tony’s for his talents.
Harrison says he’s thrilled to get the role and hopes he does his predecessors proud and also makes it his own. His biggest challenge is to get the audience on his side.
“Basically, it’s just me and the audience up there,” he says. “I’ve got to win them over from the beginning and make sure they follow me the entire time.”
He says he enjoys breaking the perceived rules of a Broadway show, and the more audience interaction and cat-calls, the better.
Harrison has predominantly acted in theater since Showtime’s groundbreaking “Queer as Folk” ended in 2005. The show was one of the first to feature leading gay characters at a time when the LGBTQ community wasn’t so excepted, and its dedicated fanbase is as loyal and zealous as a Trekkie. Harrison is humble when he talks about his time on the show, but realizes its importance in propelling equality.
“I think ‘Queer as Folk’ happened at just the right time in pop culture,” he says. “It portrayed characters and storylines that weren’t being featured on television back then.”
While he sees his castmates at least once a year for various fan conventions, he says he hasn’t heard any rumors of a reunion.
Harrison is quite familiar with Louisville — he graduated from University of Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music — and says he’d often drive down to catch a play at Actors Theatre. He’s also happy to be here next week for two reasons: 1) warmer weather than where he’s recently been (Des Moines, Milwaukee and Chicago), and 2) because he’s got a lot of friends in town for the Humana Fest.
“Cabaret” runs March 8-13 at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. Tickets start at $31.25. But before he straps on those suspenders and slicks back his hair, he answered some very important questions …
What’s the most surprising thing on your Bucket List?
I’d like to stay at a Tibetan monastery for a couple months. To actually live like a monk — get rid of my possessions and all that.
What poster was on your wall in junior high?
This is so cliché, but I had a poster of “Les Mis.”
If you were mayor, to whom would you give the key to the city?
I’d give the key to New York City to (writer, comedian, gay rights activist) Justin Sayre. He puts on these incredible variety shows at Joe’s Pub in New York, and the most recent one focused on “Cabaret.”
What are your preferred pizza toppings?
Cheese, cheese and more cheese.
If you could be any age for a week, what would it be?
I guess I’m excited to be 40, but I don’t think it’s going to be much different than what I am now (38). I’m definitely not interested in being any younger. It’d be nice not to be sore all the time, but other than that, I don’t miss my 20s or teens.
What famous person do people say you resemble the most?
Sometimes I get, “You look like that guy on ‘Queer as Folk’!” And I’m, like, “Yeah, I’ve heard that. I’ve never seen that show.”
Who would you most like to be stuck with in an elevator?
Is this an isolated elevator or one of those at hotels that are all in glass? Maybe someone with some anti-anxiety medicine, which would probably be my friend Julia. Although she’d probably drive me crazy in an elevator.