Through Aug. 6
The Kennedy Center
Veteran actor Scott Robertson leapt at the chance to play Herr Shultz in the national tour of Roundabout Theatre’s “Cabaret.”
“At 63, not a lot of great parts come your way,” he says.
“Cabaret” is set in decadent 1930 Berlin. The Weimar Republic is breathing its last gasps and fascism is on the rise, but singer Sally Bowles remains blissfully unaware working at the louche Kit Kat Klub under the leering watch of its Emcee. During off hours at Fräulein Schneider no-frills boarding house, Sally develops a complicated relationship with fellow tenant Clifford Bradford, a bisexual aspiring writer. The secondary plot follows the sweet but ill-fated romance between the landlady and Jewish shopkeeper Herr Shultz.
“Herr Shultz is an optimist,” Robertson says. “He seems to think bad times will blow over. But of course that’s not how things worked out. This Roundabout production is entertaining but dark and it resonates. Throughout the tour there’s been a lot of nervous laughter in the audience. Some people think it’s a musical written to reflect America’s current political climate.”
Of course that’s not the case. “Cabaret’s” source is Christopher Isherwood’s 1939 novella “Goodbye to Berlin” based on the gay writer’s experience as an expat in Berlin in the early 1930s where he was free to explore his sexuality far from his family’s disapproving eye. John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff’s Tony-winning musical premiered in 1966 introducing an iconic score including familiar tunes like “Cabaret” and “Willkommen.” The show was a huge success.
The deglamorized production now moored at the Eisenhower Theater through early August is Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s 2014 Broadway revival, a re-creation of their 1998 Broadway revival, which was based on Mendes’ 1993 London production. And there have been innumerable productions before, after and in between including Bob Fosse’s screen adaptation with Liza Minelli. So the play has been around. And Robertson has played Herr Shultz before.
“But now with my big white mustache I’m finally the right age for the part,” he says.
Others currently featured include Broadway and West End veteran Jon Peters as the Emcee. Leigh Ann Larkin plays Sally Bowles and Benjamin Eakeley is Clifford Bradshaw. Mary Gordon plays Fräulein Schneider. Some of the cast double as band members.
A Stamford, Conn., native and longtime New Yorker, Robertson has penned and performed two autobiographical pieces titled “Buck Naked” and “Noises On.” In the monologues with music he reflects on the men who made the biggest impact on his life — his musically talented father who died when he was just 15 and his late husband of 35 years Peter Flint, drama coach and director felled by prostate cancer four years ago.
In these monologues, Robertson talks about briefly coming out at 15 and then coming out again for good in his early 20s.
“My mother said she’d rather I was a drug addict than gay, but she got over that. My husband became very close with my family.”
And very interestingly, he discusses being diagnosed with Tourette syndrome in his 30s.
“Mostly it’s some throat stuff and tics. But onstage there’s a state of flow that happens which allows me to act and sing. I’m more symptomatic offstage.”
Robertson’s professional theater career began at 19 with a part in “Grease.” He has worked consistently in doing cabaret, stage and screen ever since.
“It’s been a combination of luck, hard work and talent. I have extremely talented friends who never find work. I had incredible desire and worked incredibly hard always doing six, seven shows a year. And when the big opportunities came up like ‘Damn Yankees’ with Jerry Lewis I’d bring all of myself to that moment.”
When the tour ends in August, Robertson will return to his home in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen and his new boyfriend, also a widower.
“Touring is tough,” he says. “I wouldn’t do it for just any part. But Herr Shultz is worth it.”