Life Is a Cabaret
Behind the false eyelashes, bold lips, and temporary tattoos of spring’s Broadway revival
This spring, Cabaret returns to Broadway for the fourth time with an all-star cast (including Michelle Williams as lead Sally Bowles and Alan Cumming as the Emcee), an iconic theatre (Studio 54), and some very creative makeup dreamed up by 20-year theater vet Angelina Avallone with the help of the show’s makeup partner MAC.
Based on Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin, the musical follows the performers of the fictional Kit Kat Klub during the decline of decadence in pre-World War II Germany. The show opens at the height of the cabaret era in the late 1920s and the performers—known as the Kit Kat girls—adorn their eyes, cheeks, and lips with vibrant colors in hopes of stardom. “Because they were young and beautiful and were actors, they spent some money on makeup,” says Avallone. In Act 1, each performer’s look is unique and bold: think brick red lips, bright pink cheeks, shimmering purple eyeshadow, and glossy auburn locks. Some girls wear temporary tattoos while others sport bruises, signifying their wild lives. “At night, anything goes,” Avallone notes.
As the story progresses, color slowly leaves the stage; by Act 2 the costumes, hair, and makeup are all black and white with the exception of the Emcee and Sally Bowles. “There is a shift in politics, there is a shift in attitude,” Avallone explains. The Kit Kat girls sport identical black cropped wigs and their faces are done up in black and white. As intermission leaves little time for change, they apply white powder over their Act 1 makeup. Smudgy black and white eye shadows replace Act 1’s jewel-tones and a mixture of black eyeliner and lip balm camouflages their bright pouts. “The glamour and the carefree attitude is slowly taken away from everybody,” says Avallone. But luckily, with eight performances a week, it soon returns.