It’s a brave move, Emma Stone. The 26-year-old’s A-list movie career continues to build (with a scene-stealing role in this season’s Birdman), and so it’s a curious wonder to see Stone take on what’s likely her most difficult challenge—replacing Michelle Williams as nightclub chanteuse Sally Bowles in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival-of-a-revival of Cabaret. (Stone will appear in the show through Feb. 1). But when the intrigue and dazzle of a mega-Hollywood Broadway debut wears off, what’s left is simply a performance, and Stone delivers an impressive one that succeeds despite its diversions.
Stone is a charismatic firecracker, and she brings that infectious excitability here—although perhaps a bit too much. She is eight years Williams’ junior, but her Sally feels decades younger, and the added youth changes Sally’s emotional barometer from selected ignorance to genuine obliviousness. There’s a layer of scorched earth that doesn’t quite exist in Stone’s Sally; for instance, in the case of torch song ”Maybe This Time,” performed by the actress with vigor, she doesn’t quite make one believe she’s been down this road numerous times before. Her scenes involving straight-laced, would-be beau Cliff (Bill Heck, solidly charming) are manic yet engaging, despite a few too many slips of an accent, and as a singer, Stone’s effort is admirable. But it’s in her Kit Kat Klub persona that Stone truly demands your attention, debuting with palpable elation in ”Don’t Tell Mama” and playing Sally like the club’s local mean girl, popular and despised among the chorus but inarguably magnetic on stage. If our leading lady’s backstage work is uneven, it’s easy to see why this immature Sally commands the floorshow.
The rest of the production—it pleases one to report—is still in top form, with the cunning Cumming continuing the run of his career and Linda Emond better than ever as the show’s emotional center, Fraulein Schneider. Though the starring act has shifted, there are plenty of reasons to return to this Cabaret—although, to be sure, Stone is chiefly among them. B+