Joel Grey--sweetly menacing with slicked-back hair, red doll-like lips and a tiny black suit--ruled the Kit Kat Klub like a sexed-up, slightly demonic ventriloquist's dummy in both the original Broadway run of Cabaret from 1966 to 1969 and the 1972 movie version.

Alan Cumming reinvented the role of the Emcee in the 1998 Broadway revival, making Grey's version seem asexual in comparison as Cumming flirted with men and women, onstage and off, while dressed in a black bow tie dangling from white suspenders across his bare chest with its red glittered nipples and pale vampire-like skin. The whole play was grittier, sexier, more decadent--and truer to the Weimar Republic that inspired Christopher Isherwood's short story collection, Goodbye to Berlin, which inspired John Van Druten's play I Am a Camera, which inspired Cabaret.

WaterTower Theatre continues the trend of realism with its Cabaret, which previews Thursday and opens Friday, using a revised script that director Terry Martin says is more historically accurate and conveys the realistic sleaziness of a pre-Nazi German cabaret. "The 1960s version was very tame in comparison," he says. "We're more frank with the sexuality involved in the newer version than the original versions."

And it's only fitting that WaterTower's Emcee reflects that. Ashley Puckett Gonzales will be one of the first female Cabaret Emcees, taking the role in a Marlene Dietrich direction, playing on the idea that the Emcee was supposed to be androgynous--neither decidedly male nor female. Accompanying her are the Kit Kat Girls, a troupe of dancers clad in underwear, garter belts and fishnets--"the 1929 equivalent of gentleman's club dancers," Martin says. And, like the recent revival, the entire theater will be the club, placing the audience into the play as the club's audience.

So step inside because, as the Emcee--male or female, sexy or scary--says, "In here, life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the orchestra is beautiful."

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Shannon Sutlief

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