“It’s just been a character that has swum around inside me for 25 years,” the 41-year-old Redmayne said in a Zoom interview, explaining that he first played the Emcee in high school. “My mum dug out a very embarrassing video the other day of my 15-year-old version, and I’m not sure a lot has changed, to be honest,” he added, laughing.
Redmayne — an Oscar winner, too, for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in 2014’s “The Theory of Everything” — anchors a revival of the 1966 musical by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff that is now likely to become a centerpiece event of the 2023-2024 Broadway season. It also stars Gayle Rankin as Sally Bowles, the role made famous by Liza Minnelli in Bob Fosse’s 1972 film adaptation. Minnelli and Joel Grey, the original Emcee on Broadway, earned Oscars for their performances in the movie.
The latest production, under Rebecca Frecknall’s direction, begins performances April 1 at the August Wilson Theatre, which is being renovated, to designer Tom Scutt’s specifications, for conversion into the decadent Berlin club in which the musical is set. (Tickets go on sale to the general public on Nov. 2 at 10 a.m. Eastern at kitkat.club.)
The musical’s title has undergone a renovation, as well: It’s now being called “Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club,” a moniker born in the 2021 London incarnation that also starred Redmayne and that won him an Olivier Award.
“His performance is quite extraordinary,” Frecknall said. “He’s such a shapeshifter in the show, such an incredible mover. There’s a kind of real, grotesque clown to it. It’s not like other versions of the Emcee that I’ve seen.”
“Cabaret,” based on the play “I Am a Camera,” by John Van Druten, has been staged in celebrated Broadway revivals before, most notably in the 1998 version starring Alan Cumming and the late Natasha Richardson. Cumming reprised the role of Emcee opposite Michelle Williams in 2014 at Studio 54 — a production in which the Scottish-born, Juilliard-trained Rankin played Fraulein Kost, the lady of the evening in Sally’s boardinghouse.
“She kind of holds her own mystery,” said Rankin of Sally. Her predecessors in the role include Jessie Buckley, who portrayed Sally opposite Redmayne in London. “Everyone thinks they understand Sally Bowles, and, the thing is, nobody does. A few people have already asked, ‘What’s your take?’ And I’m like, ‘You don’t get to know that!’”
Redmayne’s influence in the industry is such that it was the actor who recruited the director for “Cabaret,” not the other way around. “By the time they came to me, Eddie had already gone to Jessie,” Frecknall said. “So I met him and he sort of proposed the idea, and I said, ‘I’d kill to do “Cabaret.” It’s one of my favorite musicals.’”
When Redmayne says he has been in a long-term artistic relationship with the Emcee — who presides over nights at the Kit Kat Club, where many of the numbers are metaphors for the rise of Nazism — he’s not being facetious. At 19, he played the Emcee again in a major annual play festival in Edinburgh. Like Rankin, he views the role as one of infinite possibility.
“There is something about this part that is so amorphous and intangible and impossible to pin down,” he said from the United Kingdom, where he was taking a short break in filming a TV adaptation in Croatia and Hungary of the Frederick Forsyth thriller “The Day of the Jackal.” In movies, he has not had to rely on his singing skills, although he knows how to sing, having been a choral scholar at Cambridge.
“Certainly the training for doing a London run, and now trying to balance playing an assassin with getting my voice and physicality up to scratch for six months on Broadway — it’s a huge undertaking, but such an exciting one,” he said.
Asked, though, whether his mum’s video of him as a teenage Emcee might be revealed to the world, Redmayne replied, laughing: “I don’t think anybody needs to see it.”